On 22 November 2022, six former staff members of Apple Daily and its parent company Next Digital pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to commit “collusion with foreign forces” in violation of the NSL. The staff members were accused of conspiring with Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, and three companies linked with Apple Daily, to publish articles containing requests for “external elements” to “impose sanctions or blockage, or engage in other hostile activities against the PRC or the HKSAR.” The six staff members were arrested in June and July 2021. Their bail applications were all denied (a common occurrence since the CFA ruled that there is a presumption against bail in cases involving national security). They had been detained in custody since then. This case is another demonstration of the grave injustices inflicted by the NSL. It is obvious that prolonged pre-trial detention weakens a defendant’s determination to defend a case, and exerts weighty pressure to enter a guilty plea. Further, charging a defendant with “conspiracy” extends the already very vague national security offence of “collusion with foreign forces”. The case has a clear chilling effect on the media landscape in Hong Kong, and has prompted other independent media outlets to shut down their operations. In July 2022, the UN Human Rights Committee strongly criticised the NSL for lack of clarity on “national security” and violating basic human rights; the Committee called for its complete repeal. However, the Hong Kong authorities have continued to prosecute an increasing number of defendants using the law; and the Hong Kong courts have continued to enforce it. The Apple Daily case is being tried by three handpicked national security judges: Justice Esther Toh, Susana D’Almada Remedios, and Alex Lee. The prosecution is led by Anthony Chau of the Department of Justice.
(This article originally appeared as an item in the Oct-Dec 2022 edition of our newsletter.)