Hong Kong police arrested a former senior journalist with the Apple Daily newspaper at the international airport on Sunday night on a suspected national security charge as he tried to leave the city, according to media reports.
Fung Wai-kong would be the seventh staffer at the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper to be arrested on national security grounds in recent weeks. He was an editor and columnist at the now-closed paper, Hong Kong media reported.
Police said in a statement that a 57-year-old man had been arrested at the airport for “conspiring to collude with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security”. They added that he had been detained and investigations were continuing.
A former Apple Daily journalist, Jack Hazelwood, said on Twitter that Fung was attempting to board a flight to London and called on British authorities to take action.
Apple Daily, a popular tabloid, was forced to fold following a raid by several hundred police on its headquarters on June 17 and the freezing of key assets and bank accounts. It printed its last edition last Thursday.
Authorities say dozens of the paper’s articles may have violated a China-imposed national security law, the first instance of authorities taking aim at media reports under the legislation.
Critics of the law, introduced last June, say it has been used to stifle dissent and erode fundamental freedoms in the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Some of the critics also say the closure of Apple Daily, which mixes pro-democracy views with celebrity gossip and investigations of those in power, marks the end of an era for media freedom in the city.
Officials in Hong Kong and China have repeatedly said media freedoms are respected but not absolute, and cannot endanger national security.
The shutdown of Apple is the latest setback for media tycoon Jimmy Lai, the newspaper’s owner and a staunch Beijing critic, whose assets have been frozen under the legislation and who is serving prison sentences for taking part in illegal assemblies.
Lai is also awaiting trial after being charged with collusion with foreign forces, which carries up to life in jail.
The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association, reacting to reports of the airport arrest, condemned the police for targeting journalists again, and asked them to explain the incident.
In a move seen as another blow to press freedoms in Hong Kong, online pro-democracy media outlet Stand News said late on Sunday it would stop accepting monthly sponsorship from readers and shelve older commentaries for now.
Stand News said most of its directors, including barrister Margaret Ng and singer Denise Ho, had accepted recommendations to step down.
Two founding directors, Tony Tsoi and chief editor Chung Pui-kuen, would remain, it added.