Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper shut down its online English news service on Tuesday, after a national security raid last week that saw five executives arrested for “colluding with a foreign power,” and the paper’s assets frozen.
The announcement took the form of a news post titled “Dear Readers.”
The text of the article read simply: “This concludes the updates from Apple Daily English. Thank you for your support.”
The Apple Daily has said it expects to fold in the next few days, with no money to pay its staff.
Hong Kong officials have warned the public to avoid its journalists, and an attempt by an Apple Daily reporter to question chief executive Carrie Lam at a regular news briefing met with silence on Tuesday.
The veteran political reporter, who declined to be named, shouted at Lam: “You said the national security law won’t affect press freedom, but me and many of my colleagues will no longer be able to cover the news anymore. Can you respond?”
Lam didn’t reply and walked on past, government broadcaster RTHK reported.
Earlier, she had defended the raid on the paper
“What we are talking about is … violating the law as defined in the national security law and based on very clear evidence which will bring the case to court,” she told journalists.
“Don’t try to underplay the significance of breaching the national security law, and don’t try to beautify these acts of endangering national security,” Lam said, denying that the law was being used “as a tool to suppress the media or to stifle the freedom of expression.”
“All those accusations made by the US government … are wrong,” she said.
The Apple Daily’s closure comes after the paper burst onto the Hong Kong media scene 26 years ago with lurid stories of traffic accidents and sex scandals jostling for attention alongside painstaking investigative journalism and incisive political analysis.
Using the strapline, “an Apple a day keeps the fake news away,” the first ever copy came with a free apple presented to readers.
The journalist told RTHK he wasn’t sure he would stay in the industry amid an ever-broadening crackdown on public criticism of the government under a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from July 1, 2020.
“We are just normal journalists trying to do normal things, but it seems it’s getting difficult at this moment,” he told the station.
‘Huge hole’ in public speech
Former Apple Daily journalist Daisy Li said the loss of the paper where she spent more than 18 years would leave “a huge hole in public speech in Hong Kong.”
“If it weren’t for political suppression, it would definitely still be in business,” Li said. “This suspension isn’t because the product isn’t doing well, not because the paper’s readers have abandoned it, but because of political suppression.”
Hong Kong political cartoonist Zunzi, who has had cartoons in every edition of the paper for 26 years, said the paper was “an important space for speech.”
“To understand political developments in Hong Kong over the past 10 or 20 years, we only need to study the Apple Daily,” he told RFA.
“Many newspapers will downplay their reporting of [government) departments, but Apple Daily always reported it straight, which is very important,” Zunzi said.
“If these things are covered up … it is easy for them to be forgotten,” he said. “There is plenty of dirt on the darker side of a lot of governments, and … corruption would breed very rapidly.”
A current reporter who gave only a pseudonym A Lok said she doesn’t expect the paper to last until the July 1 anniversary.
She said she has received a number of rape threats from anonymous sources in the past two years, amid similar threats, harassment, and attacks on her colleagues.
“Just getting on with business as usual is the best kind of counterattack,” she told RFA.
The Apple Daily’s readers told the paper they felt “helpless watching as the government snuffed out another dissenting voice in the once-free city,” the paper’s English news site reported.
The forced closure of the paper was “the biggest sledgehammer blow to Hong Kong’s fast-vanishing civil liberties since the handover of the territory from Britain to China in July 1997,” the paper reported.
“No media organization in the city has ever folded due to political pressure,” it said.
The June 17 raid on the Apple Daily came days ahead of the 24th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to Chinese rule, and as the CCP marks its centenary on July 1.
Commentator Poon Siu-to wrote in the paper: “It is true that the voice of a dissident or a critic is a jarring sound. But it benefits the individual and society immensely.”
“Apple Daily is a mirror for Hong Kong society,” Poon wrote. “Sometimes the truth it exposes is ugly and unpalatable … But it is exactly such a mirror that society needs [to] remain strong and move forward.”
Reported by Gigi Lee for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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