Journalists at Apple Daily, a feisty Hong Kong newspaper, had been bracing for some kind of a crackdown.

The splashy Chinese-language tabloid — which mixes celebrity gossip, investigations of the powerful and pro-democracy editorials — has increasingly been under the scrutiny of the authorities since the arrest last August of owner Jimmy Lai, who remains in jail for joining unauthorized rallies.

Still, Thursday's early-morning raid by 500 police officers was a shock, not only to Apple Daily staffers but to journalists throughout China's freest city and, more broadly, people concerned about eroding press freedom in the former British colony.