Hong Kong’s last pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, announced that it may be permanently closing its operations later this week. The move comes in response to crackdowns on press freedoms by the city’s Beijing-appointed government.
Last week, hundreds of Hong Kong police officers raided the agency’s headquarters, arresting five top executives, including chief editor Ryan Law and CEO Cheung Kim-hung, on charges of “foreign collusion.” Government officials also froze HK$18 million (USD $2.3 million) worth of assets of three companies linked to the newspaper, prompting the outlet to issue a warning that its operations could cease as soon as Saturday.
“Apple Daily could be just days away from having to shut down after the board of directors at its parent company agreed on Monday to make a final decision on the matter on Friday pending an appeal to have the group’s assets unfrozen,” the paper reported Monday. “If the decision is taken on Friday to cease operations, the online news section of Apple Daily is expected to stop updating on Saturday morning at the earliest, while the final print edition will also be published on Saturday.”
Hong Kong citizens were quick to voice their outrage over the paper’s potential closure, blasting the increased censorship of government-related criticisms by city officials.
“One fewer media organization to monitor the government,” one longtime reader said. “Anyone who dares to raise their grievances and opposing opinions against the government will be suppressed.”
In addition to being the most widely read newspaper in Hong Kong, the publication has also remained a frequent critic of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments for their continued subversion of promised democratic freedoms throughout the city.
Following the Hong Kong government’s ban on the annual candlelight vigil in downtown Victoria Park to commemorate the deadly 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown earlier this month, Apple Daily ran a front-page story the next day with the headline, “You can close Victoria Park. But not lock people’s hearts.”
Government attempts to cripple press freedoms began last year after the city implemented China’s “national security” law, which introduced potential life imprisonment and extradition to the mainland for offenses related to “secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces.” Under the new legislation, Hong Kong police wasted no time in arresting Apple Daily founder, Jimmy Lai, in August 2020.
According to CBS News, Lai has been charged with “unauthorized assembly during the 2019 pro-democracy protests”, as well as “colluding with foreign forces, ‘to impose sanctions or blockade or engage in other hostile activities against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region or the People’s Republic of China.'”
Lai could spend the rest of his life in prison.