Apple Daily, one of Hong Kong’s few independent media outlets, will cease operations at midnight on June 25, with its final print edition due on June 24, after police froze assets linked to the paper and arrested its executives.
The popular daily tabloid made the announcement shortly after the board of directors of Apple Daily’s parent company, Next Digital Ltd., announced on June 23 that it “regrets to announce” the decision to close the pro-democracy newspaper, citing “current circumstances prevailing in Hong Kong.”
Next Digital is a holding company that invests in media and publishing companies. The Next Digital board previously stated that the last print edition would be on June 26th, with the digital version available until 11:59 p.m. that day.
“The company thanks our readers for their loyal support, as well as our journalists, staff, and advertisers for their dedication over the past 26 years,” the board stated in a statement.
On June 23, the London-based NGO Hong Kong Watch issued a statement in support of Apple Daily, calling its closure “a dark day for Hong Kong.”
More than 500 police officers raided the newspaper’s headquarters on June 17 and arrested five executives on suspicion of colluding with foreigners to endanger national security, an ambiguous offence under Beijing’s draconian national security law imposed last year.
Hong Kong police accused Apple Daily of being part of an alleged conspiracy to impose foreign sanctions on Hong Kong and China, citing more than 30 articles published by the newspaper, alleging that the reports violated national security law. It is the first time that authorities have cited media articles as potentially violating the law.
Authorities have also frozen the assets of three companies linked to the paper worth HK $18 million ($2.3 million).
On June 18, two Apple Daily executives were charged in Hong Kong with conspiring with “a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security” in violation of Article 29 of the national security law, which took effect in July 2020.
Over the years of mass protests, Apple Daily has been known for its critical coverage of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the current pro-Beijing Hong Kong government.
Jimmy Lai, the founder of Next Digital and owner of Apple Daily in Hong Kong, is currently imprisoned and serving multiple sentences for his participation in multiple pro-democracy demonstrations.
To date, more than 100 people have been arrested under the national security law.
Earlier that day, on June 23, Hong Kong police arrested a 55-year-old man “on suspicion of conspiring with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security.” The man, who goes by the pen name Li Ping, is Apple Daily’s lead opinion writer.
The forced closure of the publication has been condemned by the United Kingdom and the European Union. It was a “chilling blow to freedom of expression in Hong Kong,” according to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
“It is crystal clear that the powers granted by the national security law are being used to limit freedoms and punish dissent—rather than to maintain public order,” Raab said in a statement.
The EU also condemned Hong Kong’s “eroding of press freedom.”
“The closure of Apple Daily’s Hong Kong operations clearly demonstrates how Beijing’s national security law is being used to stifle freedom of the press and free expression,” said Nabila Massrali, the EU’s spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, in a statement.
“Its closure jeopardizes media freedom and pluralism, both of which are essential for any open and free society.”The deterioration of press freedom also runs counter to Hong Kong’s ambitions to become an international business hub. “