CRACKDOWN ON PRO-DEMOCRACY NEWSPAPER
Crackdown on pro-democracy newspaper
HONG KONG • The pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily looked set to close for good by Saturday following police raids and the arrest of executives — a move that critics say undermines the city's status as a free and open society as Beijing tightens its grip.
Mark Simon, an adviser to the jailed owner and staunch Beijing critic Jimmy Lai, told Reuters on Monday the newspaper would be forced to shut “in a matter of days” after authorities froze access to the firm's core operating capital on national security grounds that were needed for staff wages and other expenses.
In an internal memo to some staff seen by Reuters, the Apple Daily said the board of its parent company, Next Media, would decide by week's end whether to keep going.
“If the board decides not to continue to operate on Friday, online will stop uploading at 23:59 p.m. on the day, newspaper will cease operation after publishing the June 26 edition.”
Apple Daily and Next Digital management could not be reached for comment. Apple's financial news team said in an article it had already ceased publishing online as of Tuesday morning.
The jewel in Lai's Next Digital media business, Apple Daily is a popular tabloid founded 26 years ago that mixes pro-democracy discourse with celebrity gossip and critical reports on China's Communist leaders.
Hundreds of police raided the newspaper last week in a national security probe in which senior Apple Daily executives were arrested for alleged “collusion with a foreign country” and HK$18 million (US$2.3 million) in assets frozen.
Late on Monday, several Hong Kong media outlets reported that Apple Daily and its online edition would cease operations by Wednesday as most of its employees had resigned.
The looming demise of Apple follows the imposition of a national security law on the former British colony last year in response to mass pro-democracy protests in 2019.
Western democracies including the United States say Beijing has used the law to stifle freedoms and impose greater control over the semi-autonomous trade entrepot and financial centre.
Police have claimed dozens of Apple Daily articles violated the new security law — the first instance of authorities targeting media articles under the contentious legislation.
Another senior company source with direct knowledge of the matter said the freezing of the firm's core assets — before any trial or due legal process proved any criminality — had made it impossible to pay wages or even electricity bills.