(New York, NY) — PEN America decried the news that Hong Kong police had raided the offices of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and arrested five executives, saying such an action demonstrated the dangers posed by the new National Security Law.

“The invasion of a newsroom in order to round up journalists is an act of war on press freedom, and a drastic escalation on the clampdown on free speech being undertaken under the cover of the National Security Law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong,” said Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America. “Today, Hong Kong authorities have made clear that the press freedom rights guaranteed under Hong Kong’s Basic Law have evaporated. News editors are being arrested for the opinion articles their paper carried. The international community must speak out loudly now in calling not only for these charges to be dropped, but for a return to a framework where HongKongers’ rights to free speech and a free press are not trampled.” 

On Thursday, Hong Kong police superintendent Steve Li reportedly announced that around 500 officers had raided the offices of Apple Daily, frozen the paper’s assets, and arrested five executives associated with the paper—editor-in-chief Ryan Law, deputy editor Chan Pui-Man, and chief executive editor Cheung Chi-Wai, as well as the CEO and CEO of Apple Daily’s parent company, Next Digital. Li went on to say that the arrests were based on articles that Apple Daily had published that call on foreign institutions to impose sanctions on Hong Kong or China. Hong Kong security chief John Lee made additional remarks, at one point reportedly saying that those arrested were “not normal journalists,” calling on other journalists to “keep a difference from them,” and alleging that Apple Daily had used “journalistic work as a tool to endanger national security.”

Apple Daily is widely viewed as the most high-profile pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong. This past August, police raided the offices and arrested ten people, including owner Jimmy Lai and his sons. Lai, seen as a leading pro-democracy figure in Hong Kong, currently faces a string of criminal charges against him, including national security charges, and is currently serving 20 months imprisonment for his role in “unauthorized” pro-democracy protests.

On June 30, 2020, China’s parliament imposed the National Security Law on Hong Kong, which criminalized a range of expression and activity deemed to threaten “national security,” with potential punishment of up to life imprisonment, and dramatically expanded both Hong Kong and mainland police authority to investigate such claims. In the wake of the law, police have arrested more than 100 people, including high-profile critics of the government. PEN America is among those groups that have warned that the law is being employed as a tool to target critics, representing “a wholesale attack on democracy in Hong Kong, and a criminalization of freedom of expression, freedom of opinion, and freedom of association.”