Hong Kong pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily prints final edition

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Hong Kong’s sole remaining pro-democracy newspaper published its last edition Thursday after five editors and executives were arrested and millions of dollars in its assets were frozen as part of China’s increasing crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous city.

The board of directors of parent company Next Media said in a statement Wednesday that the print and online editions will cease due to “the current circumstances prevailing in Hong Kong.” 

The silencing of a prominent pro-democracy voice was the latest sign of China’s determination to exert greater control over the semi-autonomous region after huge protests in 2019 shook the government.

Since then, Beijing has imposed a strict national security law — used in the arrests of the newspaper employees — and revamped Hong Kong’s election laws to keep opposition voices out of the legislature.

Last issue of Apple Daily arrives at a newspaper booth in Hong Kong on June 24, 2021. (Vincent Yu/The Associated Press)

Apple Daily was founded by tycoon Jimmy Lai in 1995 — just two years before Britain handed Hong Kong back to China — and initially was a tabloid known for celebrity gossip.

But Lai also portrayed the paper as an advocate of democratic values and said it should “shine a light on snakes, insects, mice and ants in the dark,” according to the paper.

It grew into an outspoken voice for defending Hong Kong’s freedoms not found in mainland China, and in recent years it often criticized the Chinese and Hong Kong governments for limiting those freedoms and reneging on a promise to protect them for 50 years after the handover.

While pro-democracy media outlets still exist online, it was the only print newspaper of its kind left in the city.

In a post on Instagram, the paper thanked its readers.

“Even if the ending is not what we want, even if it’s difficult to let go, we need to continue living and keep the determination we have shared with Hong Kong people that has remained unchanged over 26 years,” Apple Daily wrote.

The newspaper said it planned to print one million copies for the final edition, up from the usual 80,000, and people lined up to buy them.

A man holds a stack of the last issue of Apple Daily at a newspaper booth in Hong Kong on June 24, 2021. (Vincent Yu/The Associated Press)

The paper’s announcement coincided with the start of the city’s first trial under the year-old national security law that is being closely watched as a barometer of how strictly the courts will interpret the legislation.

The widely expected move to close Apple Daily followed last week’s arrests of the five editors and crucially the freezing of $2.3 million US of the paper’s assets. Its board of directors wrote a few days ago to ask Hong Kong’s security bureau to release some of the money so the company could pay wages, but it’s not clear if it got a response. The paper also said it made the decision to close out of concern for employees’ safety.

The editors and executives were detained on suspicion of colluding with foreigners to endanger national security. Police cited more than 30 articles published by the paper as evidence of an alleged conspiracy to encourage foreign nations to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China.

Supporters of of Apple Daily show signs to thank the reporters at the headquarters in Hong Kong on Thursday. (Kin Cheung/The Associated Press)

It was the first time the national security law had been used against journalists for something they published.

Police also Wednesday arrested a 55-year-old man on suspicion of foreign collusion to endanger national security. According to Apple Daily, which cited unidentified sources, the man writes editorials for the newspaper under the pseudonym Li Ping.

Lai, the newspaper’s founder, faces charges under the national security law for foreign collusion and is currently serving a prison sentence for his involvement in the 2019 protests.

Criticism from abroad

The move against Apple Daily drew criticism from the U.S., the EU, Britain and also Canada.

The forced closure by Hong Kong authorities “is a chilling demonstration of their campaign to silence all opposition voices,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a Twitter post. “It is clearer than ever that the [national security law] is being used to curtail freedom and punish dissent.”

German Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Adebahr called the closure a “hard blow against press freedom in Hong Kong.”

Staff members of Apple Daily leave the newspaper’s offices in Hong Kong on Thursday. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Marc Garneau, called “the forced closure” of the Apple Daily “a significant blow to freedom of the press and freedom of speech in Hong Kong.”

Amnesty International Asia-Pacific regional director Yamini Mishra said the police action against Apple Daily will “send a shiver down the spine of all media outlets operating in Hong Kong.”

“The forced closure of Apple Daily is the blackest day for media freedom in Hong Kong’s recent history,” Mishra said. “The paper has been effectively banned by the government for publishing articles that criticized it, and for reporting on international discussions about Hong Kong.”

Taiwan’s government expressed its condemnation of the “political oppression” of Hong Kong media after the Apple Daily printed its last edition.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said this “unfortunate incident” has sounded the death knell for freedom of press and speech in Hong Kong and that history will always record the “ugly face” of those in power suppressing freedom.



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