Carrie Lam criticizes the measures against Apple Daily as an attempt to “beautify” acts that endanger national security.
The Hong Kong leader has defended the crackdown on the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, insisting that arresting top editors and freezing their assets did not amount to an attack on press freedom.
Carrie Lam’s comments on Tuesday came after the United States criticized Hong Kong authorities’ use of China’s national security law to attack the tabloid.
Hundreds of police officers raided the newspaper last week as part of a national security investigation in which Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law and Chief Executive Officer Cheung Kim-hung were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit “collusion with a foreign country. “.
Authorities also froze the tabloid’s assets of HK $ 18 million ($ 2.3 million).
The crackdown marked the first time authorities targeted media articles under security legislation, which punishes anything deemed secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with up to life in prison.
Western rights groups, media organizations and governments have criticized the actions and expressed concern about press freedom and other rights in the semi-autonomous territory.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States was deeply concerned about the “selective” and “politically motivated” use of the security law.
Speaking at his regular weekly press conference on Tuesday, Lam highlighted US comments and told reporters that the allegations were wrong and applied double standards.
He said that the actions taken by the authorities were not aimed at freedom of the press.
“Don’t try to underestimate the importance of violating national security law,” Lam said. “Do not try to embellish these acts that endanger national security.”
“And do not try to accuse the Hong Kong authorities of using the national security law as a tool to suppress the media or to suppress freedom of expression,” he added.
Unlike mainland China, where the press is largely state-owned and heavily censored, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution includes free speech protections.
But the new national security law has criminalized a number of political views, and the action against Apple Daily has left the media wondering what views or reports could trigger an investigation.
Apple Daily has come under increasing pressure since its owner, Jimmy Lai, was arrested last year under national security law.
Lai, whose assets have also been frozen under the security law, is already serving a prison sentence for participating in unauthorized gatherings.
On Monday, Mark Simon, an advisor to Lai, said the publication would be forced to close in “a matter of days.”
Earlier the same day, an intern dispatched to staff said the newspaper appears poised to shut down for good on Saturday unless Hong Kong authorities release the frozen assets.
The memo said articles would not be uploaded to the Apple Daily website after 11:59 pm (15:59 GMT) on Friday and that the latest newspaper will be out on Saturday morning.
Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK said Apple Daily aired its latest news show live on Monday night, and journalists thanked the audience for their support since the show launched last October.
More than 30,000 people registered for the final show, he said.
On Tuesday morning, a statement letter addressed to “Dear Readers” stated that it would no longer update its English website.
“Thank you for your support,” he said.