Hong Kong’s Apple Daily went out with a bang, not a whimper last night, vowing to print a million copies amid fears that other pro-democracy organs may be next in line for Beijing’s ire.
Publication of the final issue had been brought forward from Saturday to Thursday after it became apparent authorities were unlikely to free assets necessary to pay staff.
Supporters standing in the rain outside Next Digital’s headquarters were joined by staff, both waving smartphone lights as they waited for copies of the paper. Reuters reported that there had been spontaneous applause within the building as the final edition went to press.
Earlier, it had been reported that opinion writer Yeung Ching-kee had been arrested “on suspicion of conspiring to collude with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security” after urging readers to “never yield”.
By this morning, Apple Daily’s website contained only a note about cancelling subscriptions – and stopping the Google in-app purchase from taking their money.
“We would like to thank all of our readers, subscribers, advertisers, and Hongkonger for your loyal support.
“Good luck and goodbye,” it added.
However, Apple Daily Taiwan carried a report and pictures from the closing moments of its Hong Kong stablemate, linked here.
Now there are fears official attention will turn on other publishers including Stand News and Citizen News, staff of which were to wear black today to protest the “blow against freedom of the press”.
• WAN-Ifra and its World Editors Forum have condemned the closure of Apple Daily as a major blow to press freedom in Hong Kong.
“The enforced closure of Apple Daily signals the intent of the Hong Kong authorities to stifle criticism at all costs,” said WAN-Ifra chief executive Vincent Peyrègne. “Targeting journalism under the pretext of national security means the future for media freedom in Hong Kong looks increasingly bleak.
“Given the wide interpretation and targeted use of current national security laws, this would likely signal yet another powerful tool in the legal arsenal of a government determined to clampdown on opposition voices and, despite their claims, press freedom in the territory.”
Unhappy anniversary as pro-democracy paper faces last issue
Hong Kong’s Apple Daily could cease publication at the end of this week, 26 years after it was established and 25 after the UK handed control of the former colony to the Chinese.
Parent company Next Digital says it will decide on Friday whether to shut down, pending an appeal to have the group’s assets unfrozen. The board had sent a letter to Hong Kong’s secretary for security John Lee, requesting that some of the company’s assets be unfrozen so that employees can be paid.
If the decision is taken on Friday to cease operations, it says 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.
“Next Digital is due to pay its staff at the end of the month, which leaves fewer than ten days before the company risks being in breach of labour laws due to salary arrears.”
Apple Daily reported that on Thursday, assets worth HK$18 million (A$3.08 million) held by three Next Digital companies were frozen, with the police warning seven local banks not to deal with the assets.
The action happened as 500 police officers carried out a search at Next Digital’s headquarters in Tseung Kwan O and arrested five company executives on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces or external elements to endanger national security.
Two of the five, Next Digital chief executive Cheung Kim-hung and Apple Daily editor-in-chief Ryan Law were charged with this offence and denied bail on Saturday, the paper reported.
In an article translated from Chinese by Apple Daily, Lo Fung wrote, “Without freedom of press, Hong Kong will lose its greatest institutional edge, which is also the greatest appeal to investors. The only question is whether the central government, the SAR government and the pro-Beijing camp understand this logic.”