Freezing Jimmy Lai’s assets not targeted at media freedom: Hong Kong security chief

2021.05.18

Security secretary John Lee has declined to directly address speculation that the Hong Kong government may ban Apple Daily from operating, saying only that officials will follow the law in dealing with the media.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Lee did not name Apple Daily, but said that if there are laws in place that can handle “a certain organization,” the matter will be handled according to the law.

Lee said running individual media organizations is the business of those companies, but if illegal activities are involved, the government has the right to take legal action against them.

Lee denied that the government’s move on Friday to freeze the assets of Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai was connected to the media profession in general, saying he made the decision because he had sufficient information. Lee emphasized that the government would strictly enforce the law to crack down on criminal offenses endangering national security.

“Freezing property is an important measure to ensure that we can prevent and stop these serious crimes,” he said.

Regarding a police officer from the national security department who has been placed on leave pending investigation, Lee said that the investigation should be allowed to finish before further action is taken. He criticized a NOW TV reporter for asking a question about the matter framed as a “speculative personal judgment.”

Frederic Choi, the second-highest ranking police officer in the national security department, became embroiled in a scandal when he was found at an unlicensed massage parlor during a raid of the facility.

Lee declined to comment on the continuing probe into the protest umbrella group Civil Human Rights Front, which has received police queries about alleged violations of the Societies Ordinance.

The Hong Kong government has repeatedly identified “fake news” as a problem in recent months, sparking speculation that press freedom could be under threat if a law is introduced to increase regulation of the media.

Police commissioner Chris Tang has repeatedly criticized Apple Daily, usually without naming it directly, accusing it of publishing content that is intended to incite hatred and divide society.

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