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World Apple Daily: Hong Kong's biggest pro-democracy newspaper to close as Beijing tightens its grip

10:50  23 june  2021
10:50  23 june  2021 Source:   cnn.com

Apple Daily editors arrested under Hong Kong security law

  Apple Daily editors arrested under Hong Kong security law HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong police on Thursday morning arrested the chief editor and four other senior executives of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper under the national security law and were searching its offices, media reported. Apple Daily is known for its strong pro-democracy stance and often criticizes and condemns the Chinese and Hong Kong governments for tightening control over the city. The arrests and police search are the latest moves by Hong Kong authorities in a crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city, following months of anti-government protests in 2019.

One year was all it took for a Beijing-imposed National Security Law to take down Hong Kong's largest and loudest pro-democracy newspaper.

a stack of flyers on a table: Copies of the Apple Daily newspaper -- paid for by a collection of pro-democracy district councillors -- sit on a cart before being handed out in Hong Kong on August 11, 2020, a day after authorities conducted a search of the newspaper's headquarters after the companys founder Jimmy Lai was arrested under the new National Security Law. © ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP/AFP via Getty Images Copies of the Apple Daily newspaper -- paid for by a collection of pro-democracy district councillors -- sit on a cart before being handed out in Hong Kong on August 11, 2020, a day after authorities conducted a search of the newspaper's headquarters after the companys founder Jimmy Lai was arrested under the new National Security Law.

Next Media announced Wednesday that Apple Daily, its flagship tabloid, would stop publishing on Saturday due to an untenable environment in which its journalists had been arrested and millions of dollars in assets had been frozen.

Hong Kong police raid pro-democracy paper, magnifying concerns over press freedom

  Hong Kong police raid pro-democracy paper, magnifying concerns over press freedom Apple Daily's editor-in-chief, Ryan Law, and four directors were detained on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces under the controversial national security law, which was imposed by Beijing last summer following the mass pro-democracy protests of 2019. Apple Daily is owned by Jimmy Lai, who is already in jail for a string of other protest-related charges while awaiting trial in a national security case. Lai and the paper are openly critical of China.

The news sent a deep chill through Hong Kong's media industry and undermined government claims the new legislation would not diminish press freedom.

Last year, China's ruling Communist Party moved to bring Hong Kong in line with its authoritarian rule by bypassing the city's legislature to implement the security law. It punishes anything the authorities deemed to be subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Police officers raid the Apple Daily office on June 17 in Hong Kong. © Apple Daily/Getty Images Police officers raid the Apple Daily office on June 17 in Hong Kong.

While city leader Carrie Lam said back then that press freedoms would still be protected, Apple Daily staffers say they knew it was only a matter of time before they were targeted.

Hong Kong raids pro-democracy newspaper, arrests staff under national security law

  Hong Kong raids pro-democracy newspaper, arrests staff under national security law The raid is the latest setback for free speech in the territory and represents another blow for media tycoon Jimmy Lai, the tabloid's imprisoned owner and a staunch Beijing critic.Five people were arrested for "suspected contravention" of the law, Hong Kong Police's National Security Department said in a statement after the raid on Apple Daily's newsroom.

"But it still came as a shock when it happened," said one journalist at the publication, who asked to remain anonymous out of security fears.

Since the law took effect, Apple Daily has been crippled bit by bit. Founder Jimmy Lai — already in jail for attending a pro-democracy rally — has been arrested and charged with colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security. Five of the newspaper's top editors and executives have been accused of the same crime, apparently for using articles to call for foreign governments to sanction Hong Kong.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd posing for the camera: Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, founder and owner of Apple Daily newspaper is seen handcuffed and escorted by the guards leaving Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre on December 12, 2020, in Hong Kong, China. © Keith Tsuji/Getty Images Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, founder and owner of Apple Daily newspaper is seen handcuffed and escorted by the guards leaving Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre on December 12, 2020, in Hong Kong, China.

Hundreds of police officers have twice raided the publication's newsroom, most recently seizing computers and materials — an alarming development for journalists and their sources in an increasingly sensitive environment. Several Apple Daily journalists had already quit before this month, saying the rewards of their work no longer outweighed the risk of imprisonment.

Hong Kong court holds first hearing for Apple Daily execs

  Hong Kong court holds first hearing for Apple Daily execs HONG KONG (AP) — The top editor of Hong Kong's Apple Daily pro-democracy newspaper and the head of its parent company were brought to a courthouse Saturday for their first hearing since their arrest under the city's national security law. Ryan Law, the chief editor, and Cheung Kim-hung, the CEO of Next Digital, arrived in an unmarked white van with covered windows. They have been charged with collusion with a foreign country to endanger national security in a case widely seen as an attack on press freedom in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

Even as official pressure piled on the newspaper, public support has surged. Last Friday, after the arrest of its top editors, Apple Daily printed 500,000 copies which sold out.

That wasn't enough to counter a financial squeeze brought on by Hong Kong authorities. While Next Media told investors in March it had enough money to last 18 months, in recent days the paper's bank accounts have been frozen.

On Wednesday, as the board met to discuss the paper's future, police officers again descended on the newsroom arresting two more journalists. Hours later, the paper announced that after 26 years on newsstands, it would close its doors.

"A woman sent me a note a few days ago saying without Apple Daily she just doesn't feel as safe as she used to with a free press is the protector of society," said Mark Simon, one of Lai's top advisers.

"They're coming for everyone else soon."

A critical voice

Jimmy Lai founded Apple Daily in 1995, channeling the wealth he'd accumulated as a textile tycoon into the Next Digital publishing operation. The mission of its centerpiece title, Apple Daily, was always clear: to criticize the Communist Party that Lai had fled mainland China from as a child.

Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper says it may shut down

  Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper says it may shut down HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s embattled pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily reported Monday that its board of directors has asked authorities to unfreeze some assets so it can pay salaries and avoid labor violations, and that the board will meet again on Friday to decide if the newspaper will cease operations. Police last week arrested five top editors and executives of Apple Daily under the city's tough national security law on suspicion of collusion with a foreign country to endanger national security.

The newspaper was a sensation, and its tabloid sensibilities quickly made it a market leader and gave Lai a huge platform to influence opinion in Hong Kong. The paper drove a paparazzi culture in the city, and at times attracted ire for its reporting methods. But it also tracked the wealth of mainland officials and their families in Hong Kong, and devoted ample resources to holding those in power to account.

An advertisement introducing the newspaper to the world made it clear Jimmy Lai knew the Apple Daily made him a target.

Beijing's growing economic influence in the early 2000s meant that other outlets often avoided openly criticizing the Communist Party, mindful of commercial implications. Lai didn't care. Apple Daily continued poking the bear, even if that meant major Hong Kong corporations such as Cathay Pacific or CK Hutchison Holdings never advertised with the publication.

The newspaper didn't back down as the Communist Party under President Xi Jinping grew increasingly intolerant to any dissent — especially in its disputed or semi-autonomous territories such as Hong Kong, which after being handed back to China from Britain in 1997 was promised its own system of governance for 50 years.

That two-track setup led to a disconnect between how Hong Kongers expected to be governed and Beijing's desire to control the city.

Man is first to stand trial under Hong Kong's security law

  Man is first to stand trial under Hong Kong's security law HONG KONG (AP) — A man accused of driving a motorcycle into police officers while carrying a Hong Kong protest flag became on Wednesday the first person to stand trial under the national security law implemented last year as China's central government tightened control over the city. Tong Ying-kit was arrested on July 1, 2020, a day after the national security law took effect, for allegedly inciting secession by driving into the crowd of officers while bearing a flag with the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times.” Several officers were knocked over and three sustained injuries.

Lai was a key figure in a series of 2014 protests dubbed the Umbrella movement, which brought central Hong Kong to a standstill for months. His paper became a symbol of the opposition to Beijing's plans for how Hong Kong's leader would be selected.

When mass unrest erupted again in 2019, this time over a bill proposing extradition to China, Apple Daily's front pages urged readers to attend huge marches, and printed anti-government posters for them to carry.

Anger in the city turned into into the most serious violence Hong Kong had seen in decades: The city's legislature was sacked, a dramatic 12-day siege unfolded at a university and the international airport was shut down, twice.

All that was too much for Beijing on Chinese soil. In June 2020, as pandemic restrictions thwarted the ability of Hong Kongers to protest, China passed the National Security Law.

In the 12 months since, nearly all pro-democracy politicians have either been jailed or have fled the territory. Apple Daily was the last major voice of the pro-democracy camp still at large.

Declining media freedoms

Apple Daily divided opinion in Hong Kong. It was loved by those who shared its liberal values and loathed by conservatives who accused it of causing chaos.

Still, its death has caused alarm about freedom of press in Hong Kong. On Tuesday, city leader Lam, tried to dismiss those fears, saying that the police probe into Apple Daily was "unrelated to normal journalist work."

Michael J. Abramowitz, president of NGO Freedom House railed against that sentiment.

Beleaguered pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily says it's closing down

  Beleaguered pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily says it's closing down The pro-democracy Apple Daily said Wednesday it would close after authorities arrested several editors in an intensifying clampdown on dissent.The decision came hours after police arrested a columnist for the paper and days after authorities froze $2.3 million in company assets and arrested five editors and executives under the territory’s draconian national security law, which was imposed last year by mainland China's ruling Communist Party.

"Treating independent, fact-based journalism as a threat to national security is an unacceptable attack on press freedom and comes amid a wider crackdown on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in Hong Kong," he said.

It is now unclear how Hong Kong's mini-constitution — the Basic Law, which guarantees freedom of expression and the media — will operate alongside a national security law that sets increasingly narrower parameters for journalistic work.

The Apple Daily's closure follows a slew of attacks on press freedom. The city's police chief recently proposed an anti-fake news law; a journalist was convicted for an administrative error when investigating alleged police wrongdoing; and public broadcaster RTHK has seen its coverage squeezed.

At the same time, there has been a clampdown on broader civil liberties. This year, Hong Kong's annual Tiananmen Square vigil was not permitted to go ahead, ostensibly because of Covid restrictions, and potential attendees threatened with up to 12 months in jail.

In a sign of Hong Kong's decreasing tolerance for political positions that diverge from those of Beijing, Taiwan announced it will remove all non-local staff from its office in the city. Taipei accused the Hong Kong government of demanding its Taiwanese staff sign a document acknowledging Beijing's claim over the self-governing island as a prerequisite for visa renewals.

As newsstands open next week, they will be absent of the apple-bearing masthead that has been a staple for decades. Jimmy Lai remains in jail with no ability to advocate for the paper founded. In his mid-70s, it is debatable whether he will ever walk free in Hong Kong again.

"I never would have imagined it would come to this." said Andrea Lo, a freelance journalist in Hong Kong. "Apple Daily is a huge part of everyday life for us as Hong Kongers, but not just because it has consistently been the biggest champion of the voice of the people. All of us find a lot of value in its coverage on everything from the pro-democracy protests, to real-time reports on incidents around Hong Kong."

On Wednesday, grieving readers gathered outside the newspaper's headquarters, holding placards, and bearing cards and flowers.

"I think will miss the Apple Daily as a platform where people could speak freely and be critical of the government and Beijing," said the Apple Daily newsroom staffer.

"Maybe some other media will become the substitute for us," he added, doubtfully.

China Tells U.S. to Stop Interfering in Affairs After Biden Voices Support for Apple Daily .
Police froze $2.3 million of Apple Daily's assets and searched its office, charging founder Jimmy Lai under the national security law of foreign collusion. Lai is serving a prison term for involvement in the 2019 pro-democracy protest movement in Hong Kong.

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