Hong Kong newspaper raided by authorities may be forced to close

The board has asked authorities to unfreeze some assets so it could pay salaries and avoid labour violations.

Hong Kong newspaper raided by authorities may be forced to close

Hong Kong's embattled pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily says its board of directors will meet on Friday to decide if the newspaper will cease operations

The board had asked authorities to unfreeze some assets so it could pay salaries and avoid labour violations, the newspaper reported on Monday.

Police last week arrested five top editors and executives of Apple Daily under the city's tough national security law on suspicion of foreign collusion, searched its offices and froze $2.3 million worth of assets of three companies linked to the newspaper.

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The arrests and freezing of assets came as Hong Kong authorities cracked down on dissenting voices and Beijing tightened control over the territory in what critics said was an erosion of freedoms it promised the city for 50 years when the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997. 

Apple Daily has been outspoken in defending Hong Kong's freedoms and in recent years has often criticised the Chinese and Hong Kong governments for limiting the city's democratic freedoms and constricting the rights of free speech and assembly not found on mainland China.

Apple Daily said in an article on its website on Monday that if its board decided on Friday to cease operations of the newspaper, its website could stop publishing as soon as early Saturday morning, and Saturday's print edition of the newspaper would be its last.

An internal department memo sent to some employees at Apple Daily also stated those who wished to resign immediately could do so.

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Apple Daily said in an article on Sunday it might challenge the decision to freeze its assets in court if the city's Security Bureau denied its request.

The Security Bureau said it would not comment on the details of the case because legal proceedings were ongoing. It said endangering national security was a "very serious crime."

"We handle such crimes according to the law, targeting at illegal acts, and invoke the power to freeze offence-related properties based on need and the law," the bureau said in an English-language statement. 

"Secretary for Security will handle in accordance with the law any application related to the frozen property."

Last week, police identified more than 30 articles published by Apple Daily they said played a "crucial" role in a conspiracy with foreign countries to impose sanctions against China and Hong Kong for undermining Hong Kong's autonomy.

The newspaper's founder, media tycoon Jimmy Lai, was convicted earlier this year for his involvement in unauthorised assemblies and is currently in jail. 

Two of the five people arrested last week have also been charged with collusion with foreign countries.

The police operation against Apple Daily has drawn criticism from the US and Britain, which say Hong Kong and Chinese authorities are targeting the city's promised freedoms.

Chinese and Hong Kong officials have insisted that the media must abide by the law, and that press freedom cannot be used as a "shield" for illegal activities.

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World powers slap sanctions on Belarus over 'hijacking' of journalist's plane

The United States, European Union, Britain and Canada have joined forces to impose sanctions on several senior officials in Belarus over the forced diversion to Minsk of a passenger plane travelling between two EU countries last month.

World powers slap sanctions on Belarus over 'hijacking' of journalist's plane

The United States, European Union, Britain and Canada have joined forces to impose sanctions on several senior officials in Belarus over the forced diversion to Minsk of a passenger plane travelling between two EU countries last month.

Asset freezes and travel bans were also imposed on a number of officials linked to the security crackdown that continues to rock the country some 10 months after President Alexander Lukashenko was returned to power in elections branded by the EU and others as "fraudulent."

"We are united in our deep concern regarding the Lukashenko regime's continuing attacks on human rights, fundamental freedoms, and international law," the four said in a joint statement released on Monday (Tuesday AEST).

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"We are committed to support the long-suppressed democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus and we stand together to impose costs on the regime for its blatant disregard of international commitments."

The EU hit seven people and one entity over the "forced and unlawful" landing of the Ryanair plane, which was travelling from Greece to Lithuania when it was ordered to stop in Minsk.

Belarusian authorities arrested Raman Pratasevich, a dissident journalist who was one of the passengers and the incident, which some leaders labelled a "hijacking", sparked global outrage.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne condemned the "forced military interception" and called for the journalist's immediate release.

On Monday, the four countries called on Minsk to cooperate with an international probe into the incident, immediately release all political prisoners, and "enter into a comprehensive and genuine political dialogue" with the democratic opposition and civil society.

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At a meeting in Luxembourg, EU foreign ministers also prepared a series of economic measures aimed at hitting Mr Lukashenko and his allies. EU leaders are expected to endorse them at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.

The EU has gradually ratcheted up sanctions since Mr Lukashenko – dubbed the last dictator in Europe – won a sixth term last August in elections it says were fraudulent. The measures have targeted people accused of electoral misconduct and responsibility for the police crackdown that followed.

But the 27-nation bloc has taken a harder approach since the Ryanair incident, and over the country's alleged use of migrants to pressure neighbouring Lithuania, which has provided a safe-haven to Belarusian opposition figures and is one of Mr Lukashenko's most vocal critics.

Among their actions Monday, the ministers imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 78 Belarus officials and froze the assets of 8 "entities," which are usually companies, banks, or associations. It means that a total of 166 people and 15 entities are now under EU restrictive measures.

"This decision was made in view of the escalation of serious human rights violations in Belarus and the violent repression of civil society, democratic opposition and journalists," a statement said.

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EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting, said the economic sanctions "are going to hurt ... the economy of Belarus heavily."

The measures are likely to include action against the export of potash – a common fertiliser ingredient – tobacco industry exports and petroleum products.

"We will no longer just sanction individuals. We will now also impose sectoral sanctions — meaning that we will now get to work on the economic areas that are of particular significance for Belarus and for the regime's income," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

"We want to make very, very clear to Lukashenko that there is no going back," Maas said, adding that the 27 EU countries stood united on sanctions.

"We are really very, very determined not to budge, not just today — nothing about this will change in the coming weeks and months," he said.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said EU countries had thought only a month ago that it still might be possible to reason with Mr Lukashenko but that "the mood is different now."

Mr Landsbergis accused Minsk of "weaponising" migration flows. He said about 500 people were sheltering in Lithuania, most from Iraq, and that Belarus border guards brought 30 refugees to the border in recent days. He said Lithuania had limited capacity for them and is building a tent camp.

To kick off Monday's meeting, the ministers held a working breakfast with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition candidate to challenge Mr Lukashenko in last year's election.

- With 9News Staff

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