Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily is on the verge of closing after the government froze its assets, limiting its ability to operate.
It comes on the heels of the arrest of two of the company’s top executives who were charged under China’s strict national security law after 500 police officers raided the Apple Daily offices on June 17. The newspaper’s owner, Jimmy Lai, has already been imprisoned.
Critics say the measures represent a new erosion of press freedom in Chinese territory, which promised freedom of speech in handing the city over from the United Kingdom to China in 1997. This changed after Beijing passed a national security law that heralded a crackdown on civil society and politics.
The crackdown, aimed at quelling dissent that emerged during mass anti-government protests in 2019, has extended to the previously free media. But police moves to charge Apple Daily editor Ryan Low marked the first time the law had been used directly against journalists.
The newspaper has been repeatedly targeted by Chinese officials, as it is one of the last remaining newspapers with a hard-line editorial stance against the government.
The Board of Directors of Next Digital, parent company of Apple Daily, which met on Monday, will make a final decision on continued publishing on Friday. Apple Daily reported that the company plans to file a request with the Hong Kong Security Bureau requesting to unfreeze a small portion of its assets in order to pay its employees, so the company is not violating labor laws.
Mark Simon, Lay’s former senior adviser, said the newspaper’s management had not been able to find other means to support its continued operation.
“Crowdfunding cannot work as banks are instructed not to process any payments. I have already heard from friends who have not been able to process payments for us,” he said.
If the authorities refuse the request, the last paper will be published on Saturday and the news site will stop working by midnight Friday. Employees will be allowed to resign immediately without notice, according to an internal notice seen by the Financial Times.
“they [police] They are shamefully destroying the last line of defense protecting press freedom,” a journalist from Next Digital told the Financial Times.
Lu CEO and Next Digital CEO Cheung Kim Hong were denied bail on Saturday over national security charges. Police said they were accused of being involved in a plot to encourage foreign countries to impose sanctions on Hong Kong by publishing articles that encouraged such a move.
Authorities also froze HK$18 million (US$2.3 million) from three companies linked to Apple Daily. Next Digital’s shares are still pending on Monday after it announced a halt to trading last Thursday.
Security Minister John Lee accused the newspaper of criminal activities and said the police action did not pose a threat to press freedom. “They’re different from ordinary journalists,” he said last week. “Do not enter into any relations with them.”