Pro-Beijing media and government officials in Hong Kong have set their sights on efforts to close down the city’s only remaining independent newspaper, Apple Daily.
Apple Daily was founded by Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who was sentenced to 14 months in prison on April 16 for his participation in Hong Kong’s massive anti-Beijing and pro-democracy protests in 2019.
On April 15, during the opening ceremony of Hong Kong’s newly introduced “National Security Education Day,” Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, stated that the local government would “strengthen publicity, guidance, supervision, and management of schools, social organisations, media, and the internet regarding national security issues,” based on the national security law imposed by China’s ruling Communist Party.
According to critics, the vaguely worded law, which punishes offences such as secession and collusion with foreign forces, has been used to suppress dissidents. Since its implementation, the city has seen a significant erosion of its liberties, with dozens of pro-democracy figures charged or convicted under the legislation or similar laws. Fears of further restrictions on press freedom in the city have also been raised as a result of the crackdown.
The same day, Hong Kong Police Commissioner Chris Tang told reporters that the police would “strengthen media supervision” and criticised Lai’s Apple Daily without naming it. He also threatened the remaining members of the press, saying, “If there is evidence that someone uses fake news to incite hatred, they will be arrested and prosecuted.”
Tang’s remarks against the media, according to Apple Daily editor-in-chief Luo Weiguang, are typical rhetoric from an official shirking his or her responsibility to the people, effectively paving the way for the government to suppress the media.
Tang was also condemned by the Hong Kong Journalists Association for “making unreasonable remarks [about the media] without substantive evidence.” Tang was asked to retract his statement by the association.
On April 16, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security, John Lee, stated at a legislature meeting that the government is targeting “saboteurs and Hong Kong independence advocates” who continue to spread their message through the media.
Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong Chinese language newspaper controlled by the Chinese Communist Party’s liaison office in Hong Kong, also published an editorial calling for Apple Daily to be banned. The article accused the Apple Daily of “colluding with foreign forces, inciting violence, spreading fake news, and challenging national security,” all of which are illegal under Beijing’s National Security Law.
Apple Daily responded to the allegations by quoting Lai, who said, “Let us stand tall in fallen times.”
Apple Daily is widely regarded as the gold standard of Hong Kong press freedom, and observers are concerned that the Beijing-backed Hong Kong government may begin by purging the Hong Kong media with Apple Daily.
“I believe the authorities will take action against the entire Hong Kong media,” Fu King-wa, associate professor at the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Research Center, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) about the situation.
He stated that Apple Daily, as one of Hong Kong’s most influential media outlets, “must be one of the main targets,” and that the authorities are now suppressing influential media in order to intimidate and silence other media, making it difficult for them to function as the society’s fourth power, supervising the government and voicing the people’s concerns.