Hong Kong police raid pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, arrest five

Hong Kong's its press freedom ranking has slipped dramatically in recent years. (AFP)
Hong Kong's its press freedom ranking has slipped dramatically in recent years. (AFP)
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Updated 17 June 2021

Hong Kong police raid pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, arrest five

Hong Kong's its press freedom ranking has slipped dramatically in recent years. (AFP)
  • Editor-In-Chief of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was arrested in Hong Kong alongside four executives on charges of collusion with a foreign country
  • Authorities also seized HK$18 million ($2.3 million) in Apple Daily assets.

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police arrested the chief editor and four executives of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily on Thursday, raiding its newsroom for a second time in the latest blow to the outspoken tabloid.

The paper and its jailed owner Jimmy Lai have long been a thorn in Beijing’s side with unapologetic support for the financial hub’s pro-democracy movement and scathing criticism of China’s authoritarian leaders.

More than 500 officers conducted a dawn operation which authorities said was sparked by articles Apple Daily had published “appealing for sanctions” against Hong Kong and China’s leaders.

It is the first time the content of media reporting has sparked arrests under the city’s new national security law.

In a message to readers, Apple Daily warned that Hong Kong’s press freedoms were “hanging by a thread” but the paper vowed to “stand tall.”

Its union described the operation as a “wanton violation of press freedom” that “displayed how much police power has inflated under the national security law.”

Police said the five executives were arrested for collusion with a foreign country or external elements “to endanger national security.”

“They have overall responsibility for the content, style and principles of news reporting,” senior superintendent Steve Li told reporters.

Authorities also seized HK$18 million ($2.3 million) in Apple Daily assets, the first time a national security law seizure order has been made directly against a Hong Kong media company, rather than an individual.

Hong Kong is historically a major international media hub but its press freedom ranking has slipped dramatically in recent years.

Secretary for Security John Lee declined to say which articles breached the security law or whether those who shared the articles online, bought Apple Daily or its shares, might be at risk.

“Everyone must decide for themselves,” he told reporters.

“Our actions are not targeting press freedom or journalistic work,” he added.

“We target conspiracies that threaten national security. We target perpetrators who would use journalistic work as a tool to engage in acts that endanger national security.”

Sharron Fast, a lecturer at the University of Hong Kong’s journalism school, described Lee’s comments as “ominous and incorrect.”

“It is precisely the role of a journalist in a free society to report on political views, even those that might be unwelcome,” she told AFP.

Apple Daily broadcast live footage of the raid showing officers searching the newsroom and looking through journalists’ computers.

The paper said computer terminals, hard drives and reporter notepads were among items carted away.

Among the arrested executives were chief editor Ryan Law and CEO Cheung Kim-hung who were both led into the building in handcuffs.

Hong Kong’s stock exchange said trading in shares of Next Digital — the publisher of the newspaper — had been halted.

The security law is the speartip of a sweeping crackdown on Beijing’s critics in Hong Kong since 2019’s huge democracy protests.

It has criminalized much dissent, given China jurisdiction over some cases and awarded authorities a suite of powerful new investigation powers.

Those convicted face up to life in prison and the majority are denied bail after arrest.

Thursday’s raid was the second on Apple Daily in less than a year.

The tabloid’s billionaire owner Lai, 73, was charged with collusion after hundreds of officers searched the paper’s newsroom last August.

He is currently serving multiple jail sentences for attending various protests.

Beijing has made no secret of its desire to see the paper’s voice tamed, with state media routinely describing Lai as a “traitor” and a “black hand.”

Last month, police used the national security law to freeze Lai’s bank accounts and his majority shares in Next Digital.

Until Thursday’s raid, authorities had left the company’s assets alone. It is unclear whether Apple Daily will now be able to pay its staff.

“We will try all our best to publish newspapers for tomorrow,” executive chief editor Lam Man-chung, who was not among those arrested, told AFP.

China says the security law was needed to return stability to the international financial hub.

Critics, including many Western nations, say it has been the final nail in the coffin for the “One Country, Two Systems” promise that Hong Kong could maintain certain liberties after its 1997 handover to China by the British.

More than 100 people have been arrested under the law, many of them the city’s best-known democracy activists. Others have fled overseas.

Speaking with AFP last month, chief editor Law admitted the paper was in “crisis” since Lai’s jailing but said his reporters were determined to press on with publishing.

Asked by staff what they should do if the police came to arrest him, he replied: “Broadcast it live.”


SRMG hosts US delegation, discusses media issues

SRMG’s chairman of the board of directors, Abdulrahman Ibrahim Al-Ruwaita, received the delegation. (Supplied)
SRMG’s chairman of the board of directors, Abdulrahman Ibrahim Al-Ruwaita, received the delegation. (Supplied)
Updated 30 July 2021

SRMG hosts US delegation, discusses media issues

SRMG’s chairman of the board of directors, Abdulrahman Ibrahim Al-Ruwaita, received the delegation. (Supplied)
  • The meeting included an introduction about SRMG’s work, its new identity and future plans, and the leading role it plays in the Arab media

RIYADH: The Saudi Research and Media Group (SRMG) recently hosted an American delegation from the Middle East Institute headed by president Dr. Paul Salem.

SRMG’s chairman of the board of directors, Abdulrahman Ibrahim Al-Ruwaita, received the delegation in the presence of a number of the group’s leaders and some editors-in-chief of the group’s publications and platforms.

The meeting, which included elite members of the institute’s board of directors, experts, consultants and former US ambassadors, was an opportunity to discuss international media issues and the future of media.

The meeting included an introduction about SRMG’s work, its new identity and future plans, and the leading role it plays in the Arab media.

Topics related to developments in research, studies, publishing, content and technical progress in the media sector were also discussed.

 


Global advertising agency expands roles of 3 regional leaders

Alex Lubar (L), president of McCann Worldgroup APAC - Ghassan Harfouche, group chief executive officer of the Middle East Communications Network - Ji Watson, chief financial officer of McCann Worldgroup APAC. (Supplied)
Alex Lubar (L), president of McCann Worldgroup APAC - Ghassan Harfouche, group chief executive officer of the Middle East Communications Network - Ji Watson, chief financial officer of McCann Worldgroup APAC. (Supplied)
Updated 30 July 2021

Global advertising agency expands roles of 3 regional leaders

Alex Lubar (L), president of McCann Worldgroup APAC - Ghassan Harfouche, group chief executive officer of the Middle East Communications Network - Ji Watson, chief financial officer of McCann Worldgroup APAC. (Supplied)
  • McCann Worldgroup trio Ghassan Harfouche, Alex Lubar, Ji Watson will take on additional responsibilities across markets

DUBAI: Global advertising agency network McCann has expanded the roles of three of its top regional leaders.

Additional responsibilities have been given to Ghassan Harfouche, group chief executive officer of the Middle East Communications Network (MCN), Alex Lubar, president of McCann Worldgroup Asia Pacific (APAC), and Ji Watson, chief financial officer of McCann Worldgroup APAC and representative director of McCann Worldgroup Japan.

Bill Kolb, chairman and CEO of McCann Worldgroup, said: “Alex, Ghassan, and Ji have each demonstrated an impressive ability to drive client growth and create effective marketing solutions before and even during the difficult period of the (coronavirus disease) COVID-19 pandemic.”

The network has added APAC to the remit of Harfouche at MCN, McCann Worldgroup’s and Interpublic Group’s partner network in the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey (MENAT), and he will now also serve as president of McCann Worldgroup APAC.

Harfouche, who joined MCN in 2011, leads a network in the MENAT region that encompasses 14 different Interpublic Group advertising, media, and PR agency brands in 15 cities across 13 countries.

Prasoon Joshi, the current chairman in APAC, and CEO and chief creative officer of McCann Worldgroup India, will continue in his roles. Harfouche and Joshi will work together on leadership tasks while continuing to provide vision and direction to the company.

Lubar has been named president of the McCann advertising agency network in North America.

He first joined McCann in New York in 2012 and two years later was promoted to global chief marketing officer, overseeing all integrated new business activity for McCann Worldgroup. He moved to Singapore two years ago to assume his current leadership position.

In his new role, Lubar will drive creativity, growth, and further integration across all McCann brand agencies leading a region that has been highly recognized for its business and creative achievements.

Meanwhile, Watson will take over as CEO of McCann Worldgroup Japan while retaining her other existing roles.

Watson has nearly 30 years of marketing industry experience. She spent the first 20 years of her career in senior management roles on the client side, working for Turner Broadcasting, Coca-Cola, and Samsung. She moved to the agency side with global roles at Ogilvy for seven years before joining McCann APAC in 2016.

“APAC is a region of enormous significance for us as it encompasses the second and third-largest advertising markets (China and Japan). Greater connectivity between the regions will lead to increased opportunities. We have some of our best talent in the network focused on APAC and I’m excited to see what the future holds,” Kolb added.


Facebook, Twitter shut down hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s accounts

Facebook, Twitter shut down hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s accounts
Updated 30 July 2021

Facebook, Twitter shut down hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s accounts

Facebook, Twitter shut down hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s accounts
  • Move came 5 days after he created them
  • Choudary, featured in Arab News’ Preachers of Hate series, is linked to known terrorists 

LONDON: Notorious British hate preacher Anjem Choudary, 54, has had his Facebook and Twitter accounts shut down just five days after he joined the social networks.

Twitter said Choudary’s page was “permanently suspended for violating the rules” of its violent organizations policy.

Choudary, who is featured in Arab News’ Preachers of Hate series, recently had his ban on public speaking lifted. The ban had been imposed on him as one of the conditions of his early release from prison.

He was sentenced to five and a half years behind bars in 2016 for inviting support for Daesh, but served just half that time. 

The rest of the sentence was spent outside prison but under strict license conditions, including curbs to his internet and phone usage, a ban on public speaking, and a ban on contacting certain people without approval.

Those conditions came to an end on July 18 and he was legally allowed to set up an online presence, though the social networks have no obligation to allow him on their platforms.

Before he was jailed, Choudary earned notoriety as an outspoken extremist with a significant following.

Among his followers was the killer of British soldier Lee Rigby, who was beheaded in a London street, and Siddhartha Dhar, who joined Daesh in 2014 reportedly as an “executioner.”


Netflix releases trailer for ‘Al-Rawabi School for Girls’

Netflix releases trailer for ‘Al-Rawabi School for Girls’
Updated 30 July 2021

Netflix releases trailer for ‘Al-Rawabi School for Girls’

Netflix releases trailer for ‘Al-Rawabi School for Girls’
  • The Arabic Original series will premiere on Aug. 12 exclusively on Netflix

DUBAI: Netflix has released the trailer of its Arabic production, “Al-Rawabi School for Girls,” which is the first-of-its-kind young adult series in the region.

                            
“Al-Rawabi School for Girls” tells the story of a bullied highschool girl who gathers together a group of outcasts to plot the perfect revenge on their tormentors.
The six-episode series was created and written by Tima Shomali and Shirin Kamal in collaboration with Islam Al-Shomali and directed by Shomali.
Premiering on Aug. 12, the show will be released in 190 countries and available in more than 32 languages. It will also have audio and written descriptions for disabled audiences.
For Shomali, “Al-Rawabi School For Girls” is the result of a lifelong project. “What started out as scribbles on a blackboard is now an original show on Netflix,” she wrote in a blog post.
Shomali and co-creator Kamal set out to make a series that resonated with young adults while highlighting the challenges that young women experience in high school.
“The one thing I always found lacking in most shows that talk about women is the female perception on their issues,” Shomali said. This meant it was integral that female talent formed a significant part of the team working on all elements of the show, from the script to the set design and music.
The crew includes Farah Karouta as costume designer, Rand Abdulnour as production designer, Nour Halawani as sound mixer, Magda Jamil as post-production supervisor, and Rachelle Aoun and Ahmad Jalboush as directors of photography, among others.
“We collaborated with talented individuals who were solely chosen based on their artistic and creative abilities. And for that, I could not have been more proud to have worked with such an amazing cast and crew, the men and women alike, whose passion and dedication were the main force behind delivering the show’s vision,” Shomali said.
“Al-Rawabi School For Girls” is reflective of Netflix’s investment in the region. Last year, Netflix signed a five-year exclusive partnership with Saudi Arabian animation studio Myrkott to produce Saudi-focused shows and films along with a similar period first-look option on the company’s upcoming projects. It is also expanding its library of Arabic content, investing in more original Arabic productions, localizing content via subbing and dubbing efforts, partnering with businesses, and hiring people from the region to further fuel its growth in the Arab world.
The streaming giant is also committed to providing a platform for more female talent. Earlier this year, on International Women’s Day, Netflix pledged $5 million globally toward programs that help to identify, train and provide work placements for female talent around the world.
The investment is part of Netflix’s Fund for Creative Equity, which will result in the company investing $20 million a year for the next five years in building more inclusive pipelines behind the camera.
In the Arab world, this means working with creators such as Shomali. Later this year, it will launch “Finding Ola,” in which Egyptian Tunisian actress Hend Sabry will take the role of executive producer for the first time in her career.
Currently, the platform features several Arab female talents from the entertainment industry through shows and films including “Nappily Ever After” and “Whispers,” directed by Haifa Al-Mansour and Hana Al-Omair from Saudi Arabia; “The Kite” and “Solitaire,” directed by Randa Chahal Sabag and Sophie Boutros from Lebanon; and “Wajib,” directed by Anne Marie Jacir from Palestine.

 


Jailed Belarus journalist needs urgent hospital care

Andrei Skurko, EIC of the prominent Nasha Niva newspaper, was arrested three weeks ago and is in a pre-trial detention center in Minsk. (AP)
Andrei Skurko, EIC of the prominent Nasha Niva newspaper, was arrested three weeks ago and is in a pre-trial detention center in Minsk. (AP)
Updated 30 July 2021

Jailed Belarus journalist needs urgent hospital care

Andrei Skurko, EIC of the prominent Nasha Niva newspaper, was arrested three weeks ago and is in a pre-trial detention center in Minsk. (AP)
  • The association said it filed a request with the Interior Ministry’s penitentiary department and the Health Ministry to urgently hospitalize Andrei Skurko
  • A total of 28 Belarusian journalists are currently in custody either awaiting trial or serving their sentences

KYIV: The Belarusian Association of Journalists on Thursday called on authorities in Belarus to transfer a jailed journalist to a civilian hospital so he could get treatment for a coronavirus-induced pneumonia he has reportedly developed in detention.
The association said it filed a request with the Interior Ministry’s penitentiary department and the Health Ministry to urgently hospitalize Andrei Skurko, head of the advertising and marketing department of the prominent Nasha Niva newspaper. Skurko, who used to be the paper’s chief editor from 2006 to 2017, was arrested three weeks ago and is in a pre-trial detention center in Minsk, the capital.
Nasha Niva reported this week that Skurko has been transferred to the facility’s medical ward with “structural changes in his lungs,” and his cellmates were placed in quarantine because Skurko was suspected to have been infected with COVID-19.
The newspaper said before Skurko, 43, was moved to the detention facility he is in now, he had spent 13 days in another detention center that is notorious for its harsh conditions, without a bed or a mattress and lacking access to his diabetes medications.
“Andrei Skurko is an insulin-dependent diabetic. For people like him, coronavirus can be deadly,” the Belarusian Association of Journalists said.
Belarusian authorities raided the offices of Nasha Niva, the country’s oldest and most well-respected independent newspaper, on July 8 along with the homes of some staff members. Skurko was detained that day along with the paper’s editor, Yahor Martsinovich, and two other employees of Nasha Niva, who were later released.
Martsinovich and Skurko remain in custody and are facing charges over incorrect payments of utility bills, charges that carry punishment of up to five years in prison.
Belarusian authorities have ramped up the pressure against non-governmental organizations and independent media, conducting more than 200 raids of offices and apartments of activists and journalists so far this month alone, according to the Viasna human rights center.
Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has vowed to continue what he called a “mopping-up operation” against civil society activists whom he has denounced as “bandits and foreign agents.”
Lukashenko faced months of protests triggered by his being awarded a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that the opposition and the West saw as rigged. He responded to demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.
According to Viasna, Belarus authorities are deliberately creating unbearable conditions for political prisoners behind bars, including by placing them into “coronavirus cells.”
Raids targeting journalists and more detentions took place Thursday in Minsk and other cities, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said.
Earlier this week, Belarusian authorities declared the Polish-funded Belsat TV channel an extremist group.
A total of 28 Belarusian journalists — including those working with Nasha Niva, Belsat and the popular independent news site Tut.by — remain in custody either awaiting trial or serving their sentences.
In a statement Thursday, the International Federation of Journalists condemned the government crackdown on Belarusian media.
“We call on the international community to denounce the situation in Belarus. Each day, the authorities violate the media’s and citizens’ freedoms with impunity,” said the Federation’s general secretary, Anthony Bellanger.