HONG KONG -- Warnings from Hong Kong's top security official against "associating" with Apple Daily appeared to backfire on Friday as city residents swarmed newsstands and shops to buy copies of an expanded run of the outspoken newspaper, a day after five of its top editors and executives were arrested on charges of "colluding with foreign forces."
"What happened yesterday was terrible," said a 36-year-old office worker buying three copies of the paper at a news stall in the central business district even though he has an online subscription.
"I'm very angry," he said. "I'm just doing what I can."
In an operation involving 500 officers, police on Thursday searched the paper's offices and the homes of Ryan Law, Apple's editor-in-chief, Cheung Kim-hung, CEO of parent company Next Digital, and those of the other three managers detained. After five hours at the corporate office, police took away 38 newsroom computers.
The authorities also froze 18 million Hong Kong dollars ($2.32 million) in the accounts of three company subsidiaries. On Friday, a government announcement indicated that Law and Cheung had been officially charged and would appear in court on Saturday, along with representatives of the affected subsidiaries.
Police said the actions related to the publication of 30 articles that urged foreign governments and institutions to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China, a potential violation of the national security law Beijing imposed on the former British colony a year ago. Labeling Apple Daily as "criminals who endanger national security," Secretary for Security John Lee on Thursday called upon people not to "associate with evil elements."
When asked by reporters whether buying Apple Daily or sharing its stories online or purchasing Next shares might breach the security law, Lee avoided answering directly but said authorities would watch for violations and judge acts based on their "purpose and intention."
He also declined to comment on rumors the paper would be banned before July 1, the official anniversary both of Britain's handover of the city to China in 1997 and the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921.
Hours after Lee's comments, Next Digital said it would expand Apple's print run for Friday to 500,000 copies from the usual 80,000. By early morning, many kiosks and convenience stores had nevertheless run out of Apple newspapers.
"Apple Daily was all sold out by 7:30 a.m.," said a shop clerk in Kowloon. "Some people bought more than five in one go."
"Toured three stores before getting an Apple," an office worker posted on Instagram with a photo of the copy he eventually found. "Buy it when you can!"
While keen to demonstrate their rejection of the government's moves against Apple by buying the newspaper, city residents were reluctant to give their names against the backdrop of the authorities' expanding crackdown on dissent.
"We are not giving up," said a man in his mid-30s, who said he was an online subscriber and had joined an unauthorized commemoration this week of the 2019 death of an anti-government protester. "I still have hope."
"[The government's] ridiculous actions only made us more united," said an older online subscriber buying a paper. "Today I feel like I have to keep a record of the history."
Shares of Next Digital remained suspended after the company announced a trading halt before Thursday's market open. Next has recorded five consecutive years of net losses.
Newspapers linked to the Communist Party celebrated the authorities' action against Apple Daily on Friday. Ta Kung Po and Wen Wei Po led their front page with the news, passing up the chance to trumpet China's successful manned mission to its first space station.
Some residents meanwhile made a show of buying newspapers to share with others. Herbert Chow, owner of clothing chain Chickeeduck, posted on Facebook that he had bought a stack of Apple Daily papers to give away to customers.
"You go on with your suppression," he wrote. "I go on with my support."