No jury as Hong Kong's first 'national security' trial gets under way

Pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily closing down

Hong Kong's pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper will publish its final edition on Thursday after police arrested five editors and executives and froze £1.65million in assets.

The decision came hours after police arrested a columnist for the paper and days after authorities froze $2.3 million in company assets and arrested five editors and executives under the territory's draconian national security law, which was imposed a year ago by mainland China's ruling Communist Party.

The defendants were accused of conspiring with Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, an instigator of Hong Kong riots, and others to request a foreign country or an institution, organization or individual outside the mainland, Hong Kong and Macao to impose sanctions or blockade, or engage in other hostile activities against Hong Kong or the country from July 1 of past year to April 3.

The board of Apple Daily's parent company, Next Digital, issued a statement citing the "current circumstances prevailing in Hong Kong" as the reason why the newspaper would print its last issue Thursday.

Apple Daily has come under increasing pressure since its tycoon owner and staunch Beijing critic, Jimmy Lai, was arrested previous year under the contentious legislation.

Chief Editor Ryan Law, 47, and Chief Executive Cheung Kim-hung, 59, were denied bail on Saturday after being charged with collusion with a foreign country.

But she said, "Don't try to underplay the significance of breaching the national security law, and don't try to beautify these acts of endangering national security".

A man accused of driving a motorcycle into police officers while carrying a Hong Kong protest flag has become the first person to stand trial under the national security law implemented a year ago as China's central government tightened control over the city.

The Global Network for Press Freedom called the announcement "devastating news" for press freedom in the city.

The arrest widens the police operation against Apple Daily, which is facing the threat of imminent closure.

Journalist groups in the city have said the action by police has sent a chill through the city's media and undermined Hong Kong's long history of press freedom.

However, the wording of Beijing's security law makes clear that it trumps any local regulations in the event of a dispute, something successive court rulings have already upheld.

Critics, including many western nations, say China has broken its "One country, two systems" promise that Hong Kong could maintain key freedoms after its handover from Britain.

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