Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Apple Daily announced on Wednesday that it will cease operations at midnight and distribute its final edition on Thursday, one week after the island’s Beijing-controlled government raided the newspaper’s offices and arrested five of its executives for allegedly violating the totalitarian “national security law.”
Apple Daily’s parent company Next Digital said earlier on Wednesday that the newspaper and its digital news website would close no later than midnight on Saturday.
Although supporters hoped Apple Daily might somehow find a way to keep operating after some $2.3 million of its assets were frozen, Next Digital said the decision to shut down was made in private last Thursday, the day of the big raid.
The publisher said its decision to suspend operations was made “based on employee safety and manpower considerations.” Continued operations became financially impossible, even though Apple Daily had enough funds to sustain itself for over a year to come, because Hong Kong police prohibited banks from doing business with the paper.
Apple Daily’s farewell message thanked its readers, subscribers, and advertisers, along with the people of Hong Kong, for their “love and support over the past 26 years” and advised them to “cherish” their freedoms while they still can.
Newspapers across the free world saluted reporters and staff at Apple Daily for their courage in the face of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) oppression and mourned the end of press freedom in Hong Kong.
“The era of free political speech as we have long known it is gone. The loss of Apple at this point almost feels like we are at the brink of collapse. And it is natural for this loss to be profoundly felt in the city,” said University of Hong Kong journalism lecturer Sharron Fast.
The International Press Institute (IPI) said the demise of Apple Daily proves critics were correct to fear the “national security law” imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese Communist Party would become “a ready-made instrument to suppress independent news coverage.”
“The international community must not remain silent as Hong Kong’s freedoms are removed brick-by-brick,” IPI urged.
The Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) quoted sources inside Apple Daily who said a million copies of the final issue would be printed overnight.
Hong Kong police arrested Apple Daily lead op-ed writer Yeung Ching-kei on Wednesday, prompting newspaper management to send all staffers home. Yeung, who wrote under the pen name Li Ping, is the seventh person associated with Apple Daily to be arrested for allegedly violating the national security law. The first was the newspaper’s founder, billionaire Jimmy Lai.
Hong Kong government official Ronny Tong bizarrely accused Apple Daily of pulling a “political stunt” by shutting down.
“People around the world probably will accuse the Hong Kong government of forcing Apple Daily to close down. But the fact of the matter is, they don’t need to,” Tong complained to the BBC, without explaining how he would keep a newspaper running without money and with its staffers facing constant threats of arbitrary arrest.
Chinese state media celebrated the end of Apple Daily. The Communist Party’s Global Times welcomed the arrest of columnist Yeung Ching-kei on Wednesday, eagerly anticipated more arrests, and described Apple Daily as a “pro-secessionist tabloid”
The Global Times referred to Jimmy Lai as a “traitor” and rejected the condemnation of the worldwide journalistic community, instead celebrating “the end of an era when foreign proxies and secessionist forces meddling in China’s internal affairs” and instigating “color revolutions” was commonplace.
The Global Times huffed:
Apple Daily and its relevant news services are actually an illegal, anti-govt political institutes going against the journalistic standards, as they accept the external political funds in supporting anti-government parties in Hong Kong, instigating rioting activities and manipulating local elections.
The communist newspaper quoted Apple Daily editorials written under Yeung’s pen name Li Ping, denouncing the arrest of Lai and the raid on Apple Daily offices as efforts to “induce fear” and “suppress” press freedom in Hong Kong, as if they were self-evidently false – smears concocted by “Western politicians and media outlets” against the Hong Kong puppet government’s “legitimate moves in safeguarding national security.”