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'Press freedom' not a shield for lawbreakers: China Daily editorial | Updated: 2021-06-17 19:57
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Armed with a warrant to search and seize documents including journalistic materials, Hong Kong police raided the offices of the tabloid newspaper Apple Daily on Thursday and arrested its editor-in-chief and four other directors on suspicion of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces to endanger national security.

In a news conference on Thursday, Hong Kong security chief John Lee said Apple Daily's actions used "journalistic work as a tool to endanger national security".

The police would not have been granted the warrant if a court had not been convinced there were grounds supporting such suspicion. But unsurprisingly, supporters and patrons of the tabloid decried the move as simply an attack on press freedom.

Like any other right, "freedom of the press" is not without restrictions. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights sanctions the imposition of restrictions on civil rights, including the right to freedom of expression, as long as the restrictions are provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others.

And anyone implicated in an offense against the law is subjected to investigation, apprehension and punishment in a due process. It goes without saying that media outlets and their staff are not above the law as the law does not discriminate between different groups of people.

The five suspects calling the shots in Apple Daily are being held to account for championing and promoting activities — under the auspices of freedom of expression — that endanger national security, and which infringe on the rights and freedoms of others.

In a news briefing, police said that since 2019, Apple Daily had published more than 30 articles calling on foreign countries to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland.

Media outlets and their staff in Hong Kong are not above and beyond the law. They are not immune to the legal consequences of their own unlawful behavior or being witting accomplices to the unlawful behavior or actions of others.

"Freedom of the press" is not intended as a means to shield lawbreakers from justice. Whether the five Apple Daily personnel arrested on suspicion of committing offenses under the National Security Law in force in the Hong Kong are guilty or not will be determined by a court.

In the meantime, anyone hurling an accusation of impropriety against the Hong Kong police's law enforcement action is setting themselves up as judge and jury in contempt of Hong Kong's much-cherished rule of law.

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