A legal scholar from the University of Hong Kong said on Thursday that he doesn’t believe sharing articles from Apple Daily or buying copies of the newspaper will constitute an offence under the national security law – although authorities have declined to offer any clarity on the matter.
The paper’s editor and four other directors of the media group were arrested by police on Thursday morning, on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces through dozens of articles published in the newspaper.
The head of the force’s national security department later warned people against sharing the articles, to avoid bringing suspicion upon themselves. However, no details were shared of the articles in question.
Secretary for Security John Lee also later called on the media to cut ties with the suspects, or face serious consequences.
"If one likes and shares something, it implies one sort of supports a certain cause. The question of course is: supporting a cause, is that an offence under these laws?" said Simon Young, an associate dean of the University of Hong Kong's law faculty.
"We know for sure that advocating terrorism is an offence. But there is no other offence of advocating other forms of the other offences in this [national security] law. So, it seems to me, sharing in itself may not be an offence," he continued.
The legal academic also dismissed concerns that simply subscribing to Apple Daily would be seen as sponsoring the newspaper's activities.
"We have to understand that [Apple Daily] hasn't been proscribed as a terrorist organisation. It's when we have anti-terrorism laws that proscribes certain groups of organisations as such, that's when you have to stay away from them. None of that has happened under this law," Young said.
The law professor also said the critical element of the collusion offence is that it involves a connection with foreign elements, and reporting someone's views would not normally contravene the security law.
Asked if he thinks freedom of the press was protected by the search warrant that covers the searching journalist materials, the professor said he has "no doubt" the court would have considered protecting press freedom when it decided to issue the warrant.