Criticism of Apple Daily raid is attempt to 'beautify' security threats-HK leader

Copies of the Apple Daily newspaper are seen after it looked set to close for good by Saturday following police raids and the arrest of executives in Hong Kong

By Sara Cheng and Clare Jim

HONG KONG (Reuters) -Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam hit back on Tuesday against criticism of authorities' actions against pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily as attempts to "beautify" acts that endangered national security.

Hundreds of police raided the newspaper last week as part of a national security probe in which senior Apple Daily executives were arrested over allegations of "collusion with a foreign country" and HK$18 million ($2.3 million) in assets frozen.

Police have said dozens of Apple Daily articles may have violated the security law, the first instance of authorities targeting media articles under the legislation.

Rights groups, media organisations and Western governments have criticised the actions and expressed concern over freedom of the press and other rights in the Chinese-ruled city.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States was deeply concerned by "selective" and "politically motivated" use of the security law.

Speaking at her regular weekly news conference, Lam singled out the U.S. comments, telling reporters the accusations were wrong and applied double standards. She said the actions taken by authorities did not target press freedom.

"Don't try to underplay the significance of breaching the national security law," Lam said. "Don't try to beautify these acts of endangering national security."

"And don't try to accuse the Hong Kong authorities for using the national security law as a tool to suppress the media or to stifle the freedom of expression," she added.

On Monday, Mark Simon, an adviser to the jailed Apple Daily owner and Beijing critic Jimmy Lai, told Reuters the media outlet would be forced to shut down in "a matter of days".

Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law and Chief Executive Officer Cheung Kim-hung were charged with conspiracy to commit collusion with a foreign country and denied bail on Saturday. Three other senior executives were released pending further investigation.

Apple Daily has come under increasing pressure since Lai was arrested last year under the legislation. Lai, whose assets have also been frozen under the security law, is already serving a prison sentence for taking part in unauthorised assemblies.

According to an internal staff memo seen by Reuters, the tabloid looks set to close for good by Saturday.

(Reporting by Sara Cheng and Clare Jim; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Christopher Cushing)