- Apple Daily prints the latest edition
- The closure comes after a search of the offices, five executives arrested
- Assets of companies linked to the newspaper frozen by the authorities
- Beijing newspaper owner and critic Jimmy Lai in prison
HONG KONG, June 24 (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s most vocal pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, printed its latest edition on Thursday after a turbulent year in which its mogul owner and other staff were arrested under a new national security law, and his assets were frozen.
The shutdown of the popular tabloid, which mixes pro-democracy views with celebrity gossip and surveys of those in power, marks the end of an era for media freedom in the Chinese-ruled city, critics say .
âThank you to all readers, subscribers, advertising clients and Hong Kong people for 26 years of immense love and support. Here we say goodbye, take care of yourself,â the newspaper said in an online article.
Hundreds of supporters gathered outside the Apple Daily building on Wednesday evening to show their support, sometimes in heavy rain, and waved smartphone lights. The reporters stepped out onto the balcony and answered with their own phones.
The back cover featured a photograph of a staff member waving to supporters, with the headline “Hong Kongers bid farewell in the rain”.
A Reuters reporter in the Apple Daily newsroom saw dozens of reporters bursting into applause after the final edition went to press, and some in tears.
Journalist Alvin Chan came out to hand out free copies to supporters, saying, âI hope everyone canâ¦ continue to believe in our values.
The newspaper, whose online version will also stop updating, said it was printing a million copies of its latest edition – more than 10 times its normal circulation.
Shortly after midnight, some newsstands awaiting delivery already had hundreds of people queuing.
Apple Daily’s support for democratic rights and freedoms has made it a thorn in Beijing’s side since its owner Jimmy Lai, a self-taught tycoon who was smuggled from mainland China to Hong Kong on a fishing boat in the age 12, launched it in 1995.
He turned the region’s Chinese-language media landscape upside down and became a champion of democracy on the fringes of communist China. Its demise leaves only a handful of small online outlets on this side of politics, including Stand News and Citizen News.
Citizen News unions and six other media groups said they would wear black on Thursday to protest what they called a “government coup against press freedom.” The management of Citizen News and Stand News could not be reached for comment.
CHALLENGE IN BEIJING
Apple Daily supporters have championed it as a beacon of media freedom in the Chinese-speaking world. It has repeatedly challenged Beijing’s authoritarianism and has been read by dissidents and a more liberal Chinese diaspora.
Lai, whose assets have been frozen, has been in prison since December on charges stemming from pro-democracy protests of participating in unauthorized rallies.
Some rights groups, media organizations and Western governments have criticized the action against the newspaper. Read more
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that criticism of the raid on the newspaper amounted to attempts to “embellish” acts endangering national security. Chinese authorities denounced the criticism as interference.
Hong Kong and mainland officials have repeatedly stated that media freedoms are respected but are not absolute.
Apple Daily, which was published by Next Digital (0282.HK) and employed hundreds of reporters, said in its online article that the decision to shut down was “based on employee safety and workforce considerations. artwork “.
Since being raided by police, the newspaper says it has suffered massive resignations and entire departments have had to shut down.
Last week, the assets of companies linked to the newspaper were frozen and five executives were arrested. Police arrested a columnist on Wednesday on suspicion of complicity with foreign forces.
Apple Daily and Next Digital management could not be reached for further comment.
In an interview with Reuters, an adviser to Lai said on Monday that the newspaper would close “in a few days”. Read more
The newspaper’s newsroom was raided by around 200 police officers last August, when Lai was arrested on suspicion of collusion with foreign forces, and again last week, by 500 police officers, when other leaders were arrested.
On both occasions, the newspaper said it increased its circulation to 500,000 the next day, from the usual 80,000, and that residents of the city of 7.5 million bought it before dawn.
The police action was the most direct attack on Hong Kong’s free-wheeling media since Beijing regained control of the city in 1997.
Hong Kong officials said the action against Apple Daily did not target the media industry or press freedom.
The security law imposed on the city last year was Beijing’s first major move to put Hong Kong on a more authoritarian path.
Lam and other pro-Beijing officials said he restored stability after months of often violent pro-democracy protests.
The Taiwanese branch of Apple Daily has said it will continue to publish online because its finances are independent. Read more
Apple Daily has come under increasing pressure since Lai was arrested last year under safety laws.
Authorities have said dozens of articles in the Apple Daily may have violated the Security Act, the authorities’ first instance targeting media reporting under the legislation.
Next Digital was kept afloat thanks to loans from Lai. In May, Reuters exclusively reported that the Hong Kong security chief sent letters to branches of HSBC (HSBA.L) and Citibank (CN) threatening up to seven years in prison for any transaction with the accounts of the billionaire in the city.
Additional reporting by Pak Yiu, Yoyo Chow, Sara Cheng, Twinnie Siu, Clare Jim; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Robert Birsel, Giles Elgood and Kevin Liffey
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