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Apple Daily, a defiantly pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong that has come under heavy pressure from authorities, said Wednesday that it would cease operations this week.
Police also arrested an Apple Daily opinion maker on Wednesday in an investigation that raised concerns about the state of media freedom in the city.
The board of directors of Apple Daily parent Next Digital announced that the newspaper would cease publication in print and online by Saturday after police froze their accounts and arrested top editors and executives last week.
The shutdown will silence one of the city’s largest and most aggressive media outlets and highlight the vast scope of the security law Beijing passed on Hong Kong last year. Apple Daily has been a thorn in the side of the Chinese Communist Party for decades, and Beijing has long targeted its founder Jimmy Lai for criticizing the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities.
Police raided the Apple Daily newsroom last Thursday and arrested two senior executives and three top editors. On Wednesday, they arrested another journalist, Yeung Ching-kee, who wrote columns and editorials for the newspaper.
Mr. Yeung, using the pseudonym Li Ping, wrote last year that the Chinese Communist Party and its allies in Hong Kong “decided to strangle Apple Daily to destroy Hong Kong’s freedom of press and speech.”
“Even if the democratic world tightened sanctions against them, they would simply step up the repression and prosecution against Apple Daily in the hopes that they would succumb to pressure and surrender or stop publishing,” he wrote.
Last week, the Hong Kong authorities froze Apple Daily bank accounts, making it impossible to pay employees and suppliers. Mark Simon, an advisor to Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai, said Monday that the newspaper could not pay employees or receive payments from vendors on closed accounts.
Ryan Law, editor-in-chief of Apple Daily, and Cheung Kim-hung, CEO of Next Digital, have been charged with conspiring to commit collusion with foreign powers under the Security Act. They were denied bail.
Mr. Law and Mr. Cheung were charged with conspiring with Mr. Lai to seek sanctions against Hong Kong in breach of security law. Last year the US imposed sanctions on Hong Kong and Chinese officials over Beijing’s actions against the city.
Mr. Lai, who is serving a 20-month sentence for unlawful congregation convictions, has also been charged with violating national security laws. He faces a potential life sentence.
After making his first fortune in clothing, Mr. Lai persecuted media outlets after the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen protest movement in 1989.
“I made enough money for my life,” he told the New York Times last year. “I said, okay, let’s get into the media because I believe in the media by providing information. They actually deliver freedom. “
Mr. Lai’s publications followed celebrity gossip and political scandals with equal vigor. But Beijing also identified him as one of its leading enemies in Hong Kong, accusing him of fueling the huge anti-government protests that erupted in 2019.
In a comment for the New York Times on May 29 last year, he anticipated his arrest under the national security law and wrote that since Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997, he feared that the Communist Party would “not only tire of Hong Kong.” Kong’s free press, but also his free people. “
The national security law “will mark the end of free speech and many of the city’s cherished individual freedoms,” he wrote. “Hong Kong is moving from the rule of law to the rule of law, with the Chinese Communist Party setting all the new rules for this game,” he wrote.