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Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam holds a news conference at the government headquarters in Hong Kong, on June 22, 2021.PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images

Foreign governments are “beautifying” acts that endanger national security in Hong Kong when they criticize the recent crackdown on a pro-democracy newspaper, the leader of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory said Tuesday.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s comments come as some countries including the U.S. condemn the arrest of editors and executives at Apple Daily and the freezing of its assets as the latest examples of eroding freedoms in the former British colony.

Those arrested at the newspaper have been accused of breaching sweeping security legislation imposed by Beijing last year by colluding with foreign countries to endanger national security.

“Don’t try to underplay the significance of breaching the National Security Law, and don’t try to beautify these acts of endangering national security, which the foreign governments have taken so much to their heart,” Lam said.

Lam took particular aim at comments made by U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price saying Hong Kong authorities were using the law to suppress the media and silence dissent. Price said that “exchanging views with foreigners in journalism should never be a crime.”

“What we are talking about is not exchanging views between foreigners and journalists,” Lam said. “It is violating the law as defined in the National Security Law and based on very clear evidence which will bring the case to court.”

In a police operation last week, authorities arrested five Apple Daily editors and executives and froze $2.3-million worth of assets of three companies linked to the paper. Apple Daily has said that if some of its funds are not released by Friday, the paper may cease operations this weekend.

By Tuesday, Apple Daily had ended its English news and online financial news services.

The newspaper and its executives were vocal supporters of the pro-democracy protests that roiled Hong Kong for months in 2019. The protests were sparked by concerns that Hong Kong was losing the freedoms that Beijing promised it could maintain when it was handed from British to Chinese control in 1997.

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