by Kendall Tietz
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, sold out all 1 million copies of its final edition by 8:30 a.m. Thursday, according to the Associated Press.
The newspaper has been a frequent critic of Chinese and Hong Kong authorities trying to suppress democratic sentiment and the freedoms of the semi-autonomous city, the AP reported. The newspaper was forced to close its doors after it said police froze $2.3 million of its assets, searched its office and arrested five executives and editors last week for alleged foreign collusion, in violation of Beijing’s national security law.
The arrests were the first time the law has been used against journalists for their work, the AP reported. Apple Daily was the last pro-democracy print newspaper in Hong Kong. Its owner, Jimmy Lai has been arrested multiple times and sentenced to 14 months in prison for involvement with the pro-democracy demonstrations.
— Reuters (@Reuters) June 24, 2021
Emotions ran high as supporters of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, which has faced an unrelenting squeeze since its owner and staunch Beijing critic, Jimmy Lai, was arrested under the security law in August 2020, queued for their last copies https://t.co/RNf2JGUg1s
— Reuters (@Reuters) June 24, 2021
“This is our last day, and last edition, does this reflect the reality that Hong Kong has started to lose its press freedom and freedom of speech?” asked Apple Daily graphic designer Dickson Ng, the AP reported. “Why does it have to end up like this?”
Increasing pressure on the city is a result of the crackdown on free speech following pro-democracy protests in 2019 and the imposition of a national security law last year, which bypasses Hong Kong law and allows mainland China to deal with security-related issues directly. The crackdown comes much earlier than expected as Hong Kong’s was promised protection of its civil liberties for 50 years after the city’s 1997 handover from Britain, under the “one country, two systems” principle.
Apple Daily’s end signals a “dark day for press freedom in Hong Kong,” said Thomas Kellogg, executive director of the Georgetown Center for Asian Law, the AP reported. “Without Apple Daily, Hong Kong is less free than it was a week ago. Apple Daily was an important voice, and it seems unlikely that any other media outlet will be able to fill its shoes, given growing restrictions on free speech and freedom of the press.”
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab criticized the Chinese government’s actions to suppress opposition in a statement saying it has violated its pledge made in the UK-Sino Joint Declaration to protect press freedom and freedom of speech in Hong Kong.
“The forced closure of Apple Daily by the Hong Kong authorities is a chilling blow to freedom of expression in Hong Kong,” Raab said. “It is crystal clear that the powers under the National Security Law are being used as a tool to curtail freedoms and punish dissent – rather than keep public order.”
The forced closure of @AppleDaily_HK by Hong Kong authorities is a chilling demonstration of their campaign to silence all opposition voices.
It is clearer than ever that the NSL is being used to curtail freedom & punish dissent. https://t.co/Y08LrmIInD
— Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) June 23, 2021
Beijing has dismissed criticism of actions undertaken against Apple Daily under the umbrella of the national security law.
“Press freedom is not an excuse of impunity and whoever disrupts Hong Kong has no extrajudicial privileges,” Zhao Lijian told reporters Thursday at a daily briefing, the AP reported.
Over 100 people took photographs and shouted words of encouragement outside Apple Daily’s office building Wednesday night to show their support, the AP reported.
“You’ve done a great job, everyone!” said Chan Pui-man, associate publisher and one of the five individuals arrested last week, the AP reported.
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Kendall Tietz is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “Apple Daily (Hong Kong) Headquarters” by Exploringlife CC BY-SA 4.0.