The former executives, who worked for the newspaper Apple Daily, were arrested last year after Beijing imposed the tough National Security Law to curb anti-national sentiments in China's self-governing territory.

Staff members of Apple Daily pose at the headquarters in Hong Kong on June 23, 2021. - FILE
Staff members of Apple Daily pose at the headquarters in Hong Kong on June 23, 2021. - FILE (AP)

Six former staffers of the now-defunct Hong Kong newspaper, Apple Daily, have pleaded guilty to colluding with “foreign forces” to undermine China’s national security during the 2019 anti-Beijing protests that swept through the financial nerve centre.

Publisher Cheung Kim-hung, associated publisher Chan Pui-man, Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law, Executive Editor-in-Chief Lam Man-chung, and editorial writers Fung Wai-kong and Yeung Ching-kee, admitted on Tuesday they had conspired with the newspaper’s founder Jimmy Lai to call for an imposition of sanctions or blockade, or engage in other hostile activities against Hong Kong or China.

They were arrested last year after Beijing imposed the tough National Security Law to curb anti-national sentiments in China's self-governing territory.

The law criminalises acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces and carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. But the six were expected to receive lesser penalties because of their guilty pleas.

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'Evil law'

Prosecutors alleged that three companies related to Apple Daily were also involved in the conspiracy from July 1, 2020 – the day after the National Security Law was introduced – to the day of the paper’s last print edition on June 24, 2021.

They pointed to the publication’s English version, alleging it was introduced by Lai for the purpose of asking foreign forces to impose sanctions or be hostile against Hong Kong or China. They said Lai was the mastermind of the conspiracy and the six acted to implement the plans. After the security law was enacted, the Apple Daily condemned the legislation as “evil law” and called for resistance, they added.

Lai and the three companies were expected to plead not guilty to their charge and their trial is scheduled to start December 1. If convicted, Lai faces life imprisonment. If the companies are convicted, they could be fined and the proceeds obtained from the crime confiscated.

After hearing their pleas and the prosecution’s case, a high court judge convicted the six. Their sentences would be handed down after Lai’s trial.

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Source: AP