Apple Daily insiders said Tuesday that staffers are leaving the stricken newspaper after a crackdown by Hong Kong’s Beijing-controlled government led to the jailing of its editor-in-chief and freezing of its assets.
Reporters vowed to fight on to the bitter end, which could come as early as Saturday.
“According to insiders at the paper, a large number of newsroom employees have already left and many sections are operating on a skeleton staff,” the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reported Tuesday.
HKFP noted that some Apple Daily operations have already been suspended:
Already, the newspaper’s finance section, its English edition, Twitter account and video department have all ceased operations. The paper’s last tweet was sent at about 9 p.m. on Friday. The finance section published a note around midnight saying it will no longer be updated. A news anchor said farewell to viewers during a 9:30 p.m. newscast.
“Thank you for your support every night since this news cast started 260 nights ago. The way forward is hard, and we wish everyone well,” the anchor said, adding: “We hope Hong Kong’s journalists will remain steadfast at their jobs and defend the truth even without this platform.”
“Until we meet again, Hongkongers please take care,” she said as the newscast ended.
The air of impending doom around the paper is a bitter contrast with its stupendous print runs. Customers lined up at midnight and vendors clamored for fresh deliveries to meet demand after Hong Kong police raided the Apple Daily offices last week. Readers bought multiple copies of the paper to show their support. Business owners purchased stacks of the paper to hand out free to their customers at restaurants and retail shops.
As Apple Daily management warned, the oppressive Hong Kong government seized most of its assets and interfered with its banking arrangements, so not even the income from sold-out editions of the newspaper is enough to keep it afloat for very long.
Some veteran Apple Daily journalists told the HKFP they have already tendered their resignations, but intend to keep writing for the beleaguered paper “until the lights go out.” Few expected Beijing’s puppet government in Hong Kong to relent in its campaign against the island’s leading pro-democracy paper. Some feared the police “might storm in any time to arrest and raid the place again,” as one reporter put it.
“I’ve worked in Apple Daily for over 10 years. I don’t have any plans yet, because what happened recently happened all too quickly. It’s the same for Hong Kong. I think Hong Kong people are still figuring out how to adapt to the new environment,” another ventured hopefully.
“I think a lot of journalists, including me, can’t really grasp where the red line is. Sometimes when we ask where the red line for the national security law is, and they tell us: you’ll know if you go to court through the judgement. I think the price we have to pay is too big,” the second reporter added.
You’ll know you crossed the line when we arrest you is a perfect summary of an oppressive media environment — the language of an authoritarian state pretending to retain the norms and values of better, freer nations. There will be no meaningful press freedom in Hong Kong as long as every reporter and editor must think long and hard about the fate of Apple Daily before publishing their work.
The UK Guardian noted Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam refused to clarify the rules Tuesday, even as she warned reporters not to “accuse the Hong Kong authorities of using the national security law to suppress the media or stifle freedom of expression.”
“I believe media friends have the ability to grasp what kind of activities endanger national security,” Lam said ominously.
“You said the national security law only affected a small number of people. But more than 800 people from my company were forced to lose our jobs. Can you respond, Mrs Lam?” a reporter from Apple Daily shouted at the end of Lam’s press conference. She refused to answer the question.
Press freedom organizations are making that point as they condemn the crushing of Apple Daily. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called Hong Kong’s national security law “Orwellian” and said it will “destroy any remaining fiction that Hong Kong supports freedom of the press.”
“China, which controls Hong Kong, may be able to eliminate the paper, which it sees as an annoying critic, but only at a steep price to be paid by the people of Hong Kong, who had enjoyed decades of free access to information,” said CPJ.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the raid on Apple Daily as evidence “the government will do anything in their power to silence one of the last independent media outlets and symbols of press freedom in Hong Kong.”
RSF noted Hong Kong ranked 18th in the world in the 2002 edition of its annual Press Freedom Index, but slid to 80th place even before the Apple Daily crackdown.
Freedom House said the assault on Apple Daily represents “an acceleration of Hong Kong authorities’ systematic efforts to transform the territory’s institutions into authoritarian extensions of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Human Rights Watch denounced the Apple Daily raid as an act of “political retribution” and “a new low in what seems to be a bottomless assault on press freedom.” Amnesty International likewise said it was a “crackdown on press freedom” justified under the “pretext” of national security.
The Foreign Correspondents Club expressed concern that “this latest action will serve to intimidate independent media in Hong Kong and will cast a chill over the free press, protected under the Basic Law.”