An adviser to jailed owner Jimmy Lai warned Monday that Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily could be forced to shut down “in a matter of days” because the government froze its assets after a massive police raid last week.
“We thought we’d be able to make it to the end of the month. It’s just getting harder and harder. It’s essentially a matter of days,” adviser Mark Simon told Reuters on Monday.
Simon said vendors are attempting to make payments into Apple Daily’s bank accounts, but their deposits are being rejected.
“We can’t bank. Some vendors tried to do that as a favour … and it was rejected,” he said.
An internal memo reviewed by Reuters said publication could cease after this Friday’s board meeting of publisher Next Digital. The decision may hinge on a favorable response by Hong Kong’s Security Bureau to a letter the board sent on Monday asking them to unfreeze the paper’s assets so it could pay its employees.
A public statement from Apple Daily on Sunday said there was enough cash on hand to support publication for “a few weeks” at best.
Simon added that Apple Daily reporters have received threatening phone calls and staffers are “now just worried about personal safety.”
Hundreds of police officers raided Apple Daily‘s offices last Thursday and arrested five of its executives, including Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law and Next Digital CEO Cheung Kim-hung. Hong Kong courts denied bail for Law and Cheung at a hearing Saturday and released three others pending further investigation.
Police have charged all of them “collusion with foreign powers” under the draconian “national security law” imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing last summer, which carries a minimum sentence of ten years in prison. Apple Daily allegedly endangered China’s national security by urging foreign governments to impose sanctions against China for human rights violations. The case marks the first use of the national security law to crush freedom of the press on such grounds.
“After all this is said and done, the business community is going to look up and recognise that a man’s company was gutted and stolen by a communist regime in Hong Kong. That’s a big deal,” Simon said.
Veteran journalist Poon Siu-to expressed similar concerns in a Sunday editorial for Apple Daily. Poon, a contributor and shareholder for the paper, mournfully noted that Law was arrested before Poon had a chance to thank him for his position as a regular opinion columnist.
Poon castigated the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for becoming more tyrannical, censorious, and fearful of dissent than the emperors of old. Many of those ancient emperors understood how voices of dissent could serve as a “mirror” for wise governments to study themselves:
Apple Daily is a mirror for Hong Kong society. Not only does it reflect the truth, but it also makes a sound. Sometimes the truth it exposes is ugly and unpalatable. Sometimes the sound it makes is shrill and discomforts others. But it is exactly such a mirror that society needs to identify its own malaises, so that such malaises can be addressed before they gradually become bigger problems. This way society can remain strong and move forward.
What a shame that people living today are not even as broadminded and longsighted as ancient emperors. Ignorant about the benefits of the Apple, they are dead set against it, not realizing that by destroying their own mirror they are blinding themselves to whether they are dressed properly, why governments rise and fall, and where they have fallen short.
Readers of Apple Daily flooded the paper with messages of thanks and support as it celebrated its 26th anniversary on Sunday, one week before Communist tyranny might shut it down forever:
Mr. Lee said he started reading Apple Daily during his working years, and continued to do so throughout his two-decade retirement. “I don’t want Apple Daily to fold. What the government is doing now is a form of suppression,” he said.
Ms. Leung, another reader, said she was “heartbroken” by how the newspaper was treated by authorities. “Any Hongkonger knows that Apple Daily is being targeted. There is not much ordinary people can do except to subscribe and buy physical copies,” she said. Leung said the government’s charges against Apple Daily executives were an infringement of press freedom. “Hong Kong was not like this before. If we don’t have freedom of speech and the press, then we are no longer a world city,” she said.
A reader surnamed Chan said he preferred reading Apple Daily online, but he recently switched to buying physical copies as keepsakes. Chan thanked the employees of Apple Daily, saying that they “really put their heart and soul into their work.”
Communist-controlled media, on the other hand, was delighted to see Apple Daily tottering on the edge of extinction. China’s state-run Global Times on Sunday contemptuously referred to the Hong Kong paper as a “poisoned Apple” and saluted Hong Kong officials for refusing to allow its allegedly radical publishers to use “freedom of speech” as a “shield” for sedition.
“Rather than being a media outlet, the paper has become a radical anti-government tool in spreading lies and hatred by running eye-catching, seditious claims with bias to achieve political goals, and it had not abandoned its attempts of colluding with foreign forces since the national security law for Hong Kong came into force,” the Global Times fulminated.
The Global Times quoted “Chinese experts” who claimed there is “tons of evidence” that Apple Daily has colluded with foreign forces to instigate “sedition.” Most of that “evidence” consisted of Apple Daily merely existing, communicating with people outside of China, and quoting Western politicians. For example, under the legal reasoning deployed by the Global Times, anything written in support of the massive 2019 protest movement constituted “sedition” and “collusion” by definition.