Arrests continued at Hong Kong’s Apple Daily on Wednesday as authorities arrested a columnist, prompting the paper to announce that it will cease publication and close immediately, an outcome that many had already taken as a foregone conclusion.
The FT reports that the pro-democracy tabloid, owned by incarcerated media tycoon Jimmy Lai, will close because its assets have been frozen and many of its staff arrested, making it impossible for the paper to continue publishing. The paper’s owner, Lai, is facing charges of violating the new Beijing-imposed national security law. He has remained in custody even as the US and UK have protested that they are “deeply concerned” about his condition.
A final edition of Apple Daily will be printed Thursday. Apple owner Next Digital said that it had expedited the closure of the paper because of concerns for its workers’ safety (it was initially supposed to shut down on Saturday following a recent raid on the paper’s newsroom and the freezing of its assets).
The paper became one of Beijing’s No. 1 targets in Hong Kong during the latest round of anti-democracy protests, which exploded in 2019 just months before a mysterious new virus suddenly appeared in Wuhan, just miles from a lab where the virus and other familial strains were being studied.
Apple has a long history of criticizing the government in Hong Kong, which wasn’t as much of a problem when Beijing was still respecting HK’s Democratic freedoms. But over the last six or seven years – roughly since the “Umbrella” protests of 2014 – Beijing has grown impatient, and has sought to silence critics of the CCP in the special administrative region.
Hong Kong police raided the newsroom and arrested some of the paper’s executives last week (the five arrested included Ryan Law, the paper’s editor-in-chief). On Wednesday, they arrested an editorial writer for the paper who uses the pen name Li Ping. Chinese authorities have accused the paper of “colluding with foreign forces” by publishing calls for sanctions against Hong Kong in the wake of the 2019 movement.
Police went so far as to declare the paper’s newsroom a “crime scene”, barring workers from entering, in the first case of the new national security law being used against journalists.
The closure is just the latest reminder that Hong Kong’s days as a beacon of press freedom in Asia are over.
“In the past, definitely Hong Kong was the regional hub for media because it was so easily to publish here and the rankings for press freedom were very high,” said Rose Luqiu, an assistant professor at Hong Kong Baptist University’s journalism department and a former journalist. “[But] there is evidence of a paradigm shift from a libertarian media system to an authoritarian media system.”
Some experts in the area were shocked by the crackdown, saying they didn’t expect journalists to be arrested (though some did expect the paper would be forced to close).