Hong Kong residents rushed to buy the last issue of Apple Daily in the early hours of Thursday (June 24). The newspaper, which has operated for 26 years, was forced to close after being the target of a national security crackdown.
According to Reuters, emotions are running high among supporters of the Apple Daily. The paper has been under a relentless squeeze since its founder, Lai Chi-ying, was arrested in August 2020 on charges of violating national security laws. Just after midnight, the paper’s supporters lined up to buy the last issue of the newspaper.
On Thursday morning, Ms. Tse, a 60-year-old former medical worker, relied on a walker for support as she lined up by a newsstand in Mong Kok. She told Reuters: “I hope the journalists will stay true to their beliefs and keep working hard.”
The Apple Daily printed 1 million copies on Thursday, more than 10 times its usual print run, according to Reuters.
The Apple Daily’s suspension deals the worst blow yet to media freedom in Hong Kong and will jeopardize its reputation as an open and free media center.
Critics of Hong Kong’s version of the national security law accuse it of being used to crack down on dissidents, but Hong Kong and mainland officials have repeatedly said that media freedom is respected, but not absolute.
I thought it was the end of an era, so I came out and bought a copy,” San Tsang, a 27-year-old veterinary nurse, told Reuters. And it baffles me why Hong Kong can’t accommodate a newspaper.”
Last week, 500 police raided the paper’s headquarters, and its video of sifting through journalists’ notes and other news materials sparked international condemnation.
Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s regional director for Asia Pacific, was quoted in a Reuters report as saying, “The forced closure of the Apple Daily was one of the darkest days for media freedom in Hong Kong’s recent history. The newspaper was effectively banned by the government for publishing articles critical of the government and for covering international discussions about Hong Kong, an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression.”
Five editors and executives from the newspaper and its publisher, Next Media Group, were arrested, including 47-year-old Apple Daily editor-in-chief Lo Wai-kwong and 59-year-old Next Media chief executive Cheung Kin-hung – charged with conspiracy to collude with a foreign country and denied bail. Yesterday, the paper’s 55-year-old columnist Li Ping was also arrested on charges of violating national security laws.
Authorities also froze the assets of companies associated with the Apple Daily. Executives of the newspaper said the freezing of the assets of three companies has made it impossible for the newspaper to operate.
Lai Chi-ying has become one of the most high-profile targets of the national security law. He also faces three national security charges, including collusion with a foreign country.
Lai Chi-ying has been detained since last December, has been denied bail under security laws and has already been sentenced to multiple prison terms for participating in unauthorized rallies such as the mass pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019.