Hong Kong’s High Court has granted extra time for Apple Daily to check whether police wrongly seized any materials in a high-profile operation last summer, which saw the newspaper’s founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and his associates arrested under the national security law.
The High Court in November ordered police to review the seized items, together with representatives of Apple Daily and senior executives, to see whether any journalistic materials and confidential documents had been wrongfully seized during the nine-hour raid on the newspaper’s Tseung Kwan O premises on August 10.
Lai and nine others were arrested over allegations of colluding with foreign forces or committing commercial fraud during the operation.
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The court order followed six writs filed by Lai, now remanded in jail over a charge of colluding with foreign forces, as well as the newspaper’s publisher Next Digital, its subsidiaries and five arrested senior employees to reclaim possession of documents and digital files which were either related to news reporting or legal proceedings, or seized outside officers’ powers.
In a previous hearing, a police lawyer said investigators had taken away 423 items as evidence, including 45 computers and three servers. They had started examining 353 of those items, which had not been identified as confidential by any of the plaintiffs.
Mr Justice Wilson Chan Ka-shun had ordered police to provide forensic copies of the seized digital materials to the plaintiffs for joint inspection, before arriving at a final order.
Lawyers for the companies said on Tuesday they needed extra time to review those copies, as they had difficulties obtaining access to the files which could only be viewed using specific software.
Another lawyer for Next Digital’s chief administrative officer Wong Wai-keung made a similar request on the grounds his client had undergone heart surgery two months ago.
The judge granted time extensions of 21 to 35 days for parties to sort out the technical issues and identify the wrongfully seized articles.
Lai has been charged alongside Wong and chief operating officer and chief financial officer Royston Chow Tat-kuen with a joint count of fraud over improper use of office space in Tseung Kwan O.
The media tycoon was also charged under the Beijing-imposed national security legislation in a separate case, in which he was accused of calling for foreign governments to impose sanctions or blockade or engage in other hostile activities against Hong Kong or China.
The High Court granted him HK$10 million bail in the national security case after 20 days on remand, but he was sent back to jail after the city’s top court permitted prosecutors to appeal against Lai’s release. The Court of Final Appeal has reserved its ruling on the appeal.
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