Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, in desperate straits, still holds its head high

Although the authorities are determined to silence Apple Daily, the local Hong Kong media outlet most openly critical of China’s central regime, the desperate Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily is still holding its head high in the face of the authorities, writes Chan Fei, a correspondent for France’s Le Monde in Hong Kong, on Le Monde’s website.

The related article writes that five top executives of Hong Kong’s Next Media and Apple Daily were arrested last Thursday, after which three of the five were released last Friday night after more than 36 hours in police custody. The other two, One Media Group CEO Cheung Kin-hung and Apple Daily editor-in-chief Lo Wai-kwong, were charged last Friday with “allegedly conspiring with foreign powers to endanger national security,” a charge that could land them in prison for life.

After being charged last Friday, Zhang Jianhong and Luo Weiguang were denied bail on Saturday, June 19, according to an article in Le Monde.

This is because, according to Article 42 of the National Security Law, “A criminal suspect or defendant shall not be released on parole unless the judge has sufficient evidence to convince him that the suspect or defendant will not continue to commit acts that endanger national security.” Once a case is handled under the National Security Law, Article 42 of the National Security Law takes precedence over any other legal principle.

However, lawyers for both Zhang Jianhong and Luo Weiguang previously announced a series of measures aimed at reassuring the judge: the defendants promised to resign and promised not to make any more public comments in any form. The lawyers also offered the possibility of surrendering their passports and paying a large deposit, and one of them even suggested that he could be placed under house arrest. But the judge found that all this did not exclude the risk that the two would “continue to endanger national security.” ……

Zhang Jianhong and Luo Weiguang will next appear in court seven weeks from now, on Aug. 13. Prosecutors believe police need time to examine the contents of the 40 computers and 16 servers seized from the newsroom. Hong Kong police seized numerous computers and blocked the company’s bank accounts Thursday morning while arresting five of the newspaper’s top executives.

On Sunday, Next Media’s board wrote to John Lee, Hong Kong’s security chief, asking for access to the frozen accounts so they could at least pay back wages under local law, adding that the paper only had enough money to last a few weeks. A reporter from the Apple Daily bitterly told the World that “we are mentally prepared that we will work without pay.” However, Secretary for Security Lee Ka-chiu replied that he had “reason to believe that the funds belong to a criminal organization.”

Secretary for Security Lee also advised Hong Kong people not to “collude with Apple Daily” or they would face “serious consequences. This warning was widely broadcast on local TV channels and has left Apple Daily subscribers worried: from now on, will buying Apple Daily again constitute a violation of national security?

A related article in Le Monde France goes on to write that, according to multiple local sources, the police action was aimed at shutting down Apple Daily on July 1, the symbolic anniversary of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover. “We will continue to publish our newspaper,” Chan Pui-man, Apple Daily’s deputy editor-in-chief, said outside the West Kowloon Law Courts on Saturday morning, a day after he was granted bail himself. Chan Pui-man expressed support for the two indicted Apple Daily executives at the West Kowloon Court that day.

Apple Daily’s usual print run is 80,000 copies, but 500,000 copies of a special edition detailing the police operation were printed in the evenings between last Thursday and Friday, in the hope that it would receive support from Hong Kongers in its own darkest hour. One Hong Konger who bought the day’s Apple Daily on a street corner in the lively Mongkok district told the World, “I’m not a reader of Apple Daily, but I don’t want it to disappear.”