Apple Daily, its founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and four executives have sought a court order for Hong Kong police to return journalistic materials and other documents they might have wrongfully seized during a raid on the newspaper’s headquarters on Monday.
The tabloid-style daily and senior employees filed six writs to the High Court on Thursday, requesting an inspection of the materials seized by officers during the operation, which saw Lai and several others arrested under the sweeping national security law.
The court applications came within 24 hours of police warning that, unless legal action was taken before August 17, officers would unseal 30 boxes of documents and three hard drives brought under the force’s jurisdiction after a nine-hour search of the newspaper’s Tseung Kwan O premises.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
Those filing in court include parent company Next Digital, its subsidiaries and five arrestees – Lai, Next Digital CEO Cheung Kim-hung, chief operating officer and chief financial officer Royston Chow Tat Kuen, chief administrative officer Wong Wai-keung, and Next Animation Studio CEO Kith Ng Tat-kong.
They sought to reclaim possession of documents and digital files which were either related to news reporting or legal proceedings, or seized outside officers’ powers, according to the court filing by Robertsons Solicitors. A hearing date has yet to be fixed.
While police officers may enter premises and search any person with a warrant granted by a magistrate, they are prohibited from searching for or seizing “material which is known or suspected to be journalistic material”, unless they are authorised by higher courts.
“Journalistic material” is defined as “any material acquired or created for the purposes of journalism”, according to Section 82 of the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance.
Even if officers are granted permission to access such materials, they are still barred from accessing materials made subject to legal professional privilege, which protects communication between lawyers and clients under the city’s common law system.
Lai, his two sons, the four senior executives and three activists, including Agnes Chow Ting, were apprehended in the most high-profile operation since the national security law was imposed by Beijing six weeks ago.
They were accused of colluding with foreign forces or committing commercial fraud.
Earlier, a police source said the fraud allegation stemmed from an investigation initiated by some pro-Beijing groups, who accused Lai of using the newspaper’s officers to provide secretarial services, which could constitute a breach of land-lease terms and an offence of providing false information to the Lands Department to evade rent.
The 10 were released on hefty cash bail on Tuesday evening and in the early hours of Wednesday after police decided not to lay charges for now.
Lai, who paid a HK$200,000 (US$25,805) cash bail and a HK$300,000 surety, said after his release that he had no regrets about founding the newspaper and pledged to keep it running.
Rebel City: Hong Kong’s Year of Water and Fire is a new book of essays that chronicles the political confrontation that has gripped the city since June 2019. Edited by the South China Morning Post's Zuraidah Ibrahim and Jeffie Lam, the book draws on work from the Post's newsrooms across Hong Kong, Beijing, Washington and Singapore, with unmatched insights into all sides of the conflict. Buy directly from SCMP today for HKD$198. Rebel City: Hong Kong's Year of Water and Fire is also available at major bookshops worldwide and online through Amazon, Kobo, Google Books, and eBooks.com.
More from South China Morning Post:
- National security law: Apple Daily to seek court order after Hong Kong police say they plan to unseal documents seized in raid
- National security law: RTHK removes programme featuring wanted Hong Kong activist Nathan Law, raising fresh concerns over press freedom
- ‘No world peace without changing China’: Hong Kong’s Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai calls for American support
- National security law: despite arrest, Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai says he would ‘still have gone down same path’