Apple Daily: Hong Kong’s biggest pro-democracy newspaper to close as Beijing tightens its grip

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The information despatched a deep chill by Hong Kong’s media business and undermined authorities claims the brand new laws wouldn’t diminish press freedom.

Hong Kong's first trial under new national security law begins without a jury

“But it surely nonetheless got here as a shock when it occurred,” stated one journalist on the publication, who requested to stay nameless out of safety fears.

Because the legislation took impact, Apple Day by day has been crippled little by little. Founder Jimmy Lai — already in jail for attending a pro-democracy rally — has been arrested and charged with colluding with international forces to hazard nationwide safety. 5 of the newspaper’s high editors and executives have been accused of the identical crime, apparently for utilizing articles to name for international governments to sanction Hong Kong.

A whole lot of law enforcement officials have twice raided the publication’s newsroom, most just lately seizing computer systems and supplies — an alarming improvement for journalists and their sources in an more and more delicate setting. A number of Apple Day by day journalists had already stop earlier than this month, saying the rewards of their work not outweighed the chance of imprisonment.

Whilst official stress piled on the newspaper, public assist surged. Final Friday, after the arrest of its high editors, Apple Day by day printed 500,000 copies which bought out.

Police officers raid  the Apple Daily office on June 17 in Hong Kong.
That wasn’t sufficient to counter a monetary squeeze introduced on by Hong Kong authorities. Whereas Subsequent Media told investors it had sufficient cash to final 18 months from April, in current days the paper’s bank accounts had been frozen.

On Wednesday, because the board met to debate the paper’s future, law enforcement officials once more descended on the newsroom arresting one other journalist. Hours later, the paper introduced that after 26 years on newsstands, it might shut its doorways.

“A lady despatched me a word just a few days in the past saying with out Apple Day by day she simply does not really feel as secure as she used to with a free press because the protector of society,” stated Mark Simon, one in every of Lai’s high advisers.

“They’re coming for everybody else quickly.”

A essential voice

Jimmy Lai based Apple Day by day in 1995, channeling the wealth he’d collected as a textile tycoon into the Subsequent Digital publishing operation. The mission of its centerpiece title, Apple Day by day, was all the time clear: to criticize the Communist Get together that Lai had fled mainland China from as a toddler.

The newspaper was a sensation, and its tabloid sensibilities shortly made it a market chief, giving Lai an enormous platform to affect opinion in Hong Kong. The paper drove a paparazzi tradition within the metropolis, and at instances attracted ire for its reporting strategies. But it surely additionally tracked the wealth of mainland officers and their households in Hong Kong, and devoted ample sources to holding these in energy to account.

An commercial introducing the newspaper to the world made it clear Jimmy Lai knew the Apple Day by day made him a goal.

Beijing’s rising financial affect within the early 2000s meant that different retailers typically averted brazenly criticizing the Communist Get together, conscious of economic implications. Lai did not care. Apple Day by day continued poking the bear, even when that meant main Hong Kong firms akin to Cathay Pacific or CK Hutchison Holdings by no means marketed with the publication.

The newspaper did not again down because the Communist Get together below President Xi Jinping grew more and more illiberal to any dissent — particularly in its disputed or semi-autonomous territories akin to Hong Kong, which after being handed again to China from Britain in 1997 was promised its personal system of governance for 50 years.

That two-track setup led to a disconnect between how Hong Kongers anticipated to be ruled and Beijing’s want to regulate town.

Lai was a key determine in a collection of 2014 protests dubbed the Umbrella motion, which introduced central Hong Kong to a standstill for months. His paper grew to become a logo of the opposition to Beijing’s plans for the way Hong Kong’s chief could be chosen.

When mass unrest erupted once more in 2019, this time over a invoice proposing extradition to China, Apple Day by day’s entrance pages urged readers to attend large marches, and printed anti-government posters for them to hold.

Copies of the Apple Daily newspaper -- paid for by a collection of pro-democracy district councillors -- sit on a cart before being handed out in Hong Kong on August 11, 2020, a day after authorities conducted a search of the newspaper's headquarters after the companys founder Jimmy Lai was arrested under the new National Security Law.

Anger within the metropolis that yr changed into essentially the most critical violence Hong Kong had seen in a long time: The town’s legislature was sacked, a dramatic 12-day siege unfolded at a college and the worldwide airport was shut down, twice.

All that was an excessive amount of for Beijing on Chinese language soil. In June 2020, as pandemic restrictions thwarted the flexibility of Hong Kongers to protest, China handed the Nationwide Safety Regulation.

Within the 12 months since, almost all pro-democracy politicians have both been jailed or have fled the territory. Apple Day by day was the final main voice of the pro-democracy camp nonetheless at massive.

Declining media freedoms

Apple Day by day divided opinion in Hong Kong. It was beloved by those that shared its liberal values and loathed by conservatives who accused it of inflicting chaos.

Nonetheless, its loss of life has brought about alarm about freedom of press in Hong Kong. On Tuesday, metropolis chief Lam tried to dismiss these fears, saying that the police probe into Apple Day by day was “unrelated to regular journalist work.”

Michael J. Abramowitz, president of NGO Freedom Home railed towards that sentiment.

“Treating impartial, fact-based journalism as a menace to nationwide safety is an unacceptable assault on press freedom and comes amid a wider crackdown on freedom of expression and freedom of meeting in Hong Kong,” he stated.

It’s now unclear how Hong Kong’s mini-constitution — the Fundamental Regulation, which ensures freedom of expression and the media — will function alongside a nationwide safety legislation that units more and more narrower parameters for journalistic work.

The Apple Day by day’s closure follows a slew of assaults on press freedom. The metropolis’s police chief just lately proposed an anti-fake information legislation; a journalist was convicted for an administrative error when investigating alleged police wrongdoing; and public broadcaster RTHK has seen its protection squeezed.

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, founder and owner of Apple Daily newspaper is seen handcuffed and escorted by the guards leaving Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre on December 12, 2020, in Hong Kong, China.
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On the similar time, there was a clampdown on broader civil liberties. This yr, Hong Kong’s annual Tiananmen Sq. vigil was not permitted to go forward, ostensibly due to Covid restrictions, and potential attendees threatened with as much as 12 months in jail.

In an indication of Hong Kong’s lowering tolerance for political positions that diverge from these of Beijing, Taiwan introduced it would take away all non-local employees from its workplace within the metropolis. Taipei accused the Hong Kong authorities of demanding its Taiwanese employees signal a doc acknowledging Beijing’s declare over the self-governing island as a prerequisite for visa renewals.

As newsstands open subsequent week, they are going to be absent of the apple-bearing masthead that has been a staple for many years. Jimmy Lai stays in jail with no capability to advocate for the paper based. In his mid-70s, it’s debatable whether or not he’ll ever stroll free in Hong Kong once more.

“I by no means would have imagined it might come to this.” stated Andrea Lo, a contract journalist in Hong Kong. “Apple Day by day is a large a part of on a regular basis life for us as Hong Kongers, however not simply because it has constantly been the most important champion of the voice of the individuals. All of us discover a variety of worth in its protection on every part from the pro-democracy protests, to real-time studies on incidents round Hong Kong.”

On Wednesday, grieving readers gathered exterior the newspaper’s headquarters, holding placards, and bearing playing cards and flowers.

“I believe individuals will miss the Apple Day by day as a platform the place they might converse freely and be essential of the federal government and Beijing,” stated the Apple Day by day newsroom staffer.

“Perhaps another media will change into the substitute for us,” he added, doubtfully.

— Lauren Lau contributed to this report.

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