Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy paper Apple Daily has announced its closure, in a blow to media freedom in the city. The Beijing-appointed authorities raided the tabloid’s offices last week over allegations that several of its reports had breached a controversial national security law.
Police detained the chief editor and five other executives of Apple Daily, and company-linked assets were frozen.
Apple Daily had become a leading critic of the Hong Kong and Chinese leadership. The management of the tabloid said that “in view of staff members’ safety”, it had decided “to cease operation immediately after midnight”, making tomorrow’s publication the final printed edition.
The Hong Kong Free Press website reports that a million copies of Apple Daily will be printed on 24 June.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the paper’s closure was a “chilling blow to freedom of expression in Hong Kong”.
The digital version of the 26-year old Apple Daily will no longer be updated after midnight.
A separate announcement by publisher Next Digital thanked the readers for their “loyal support” as well as its journalists, staff and advertisers.
Apple Daily has long been a beacon of media freedom in the Sinophone world and is widely supported by political dissidents in Hong Kong.
Chinese officials have repeatedly said media freedoms in Hong Kong are respected but not absolute.
Ronny Tong, a member of Hong Kong’s government, accused the paper of orchestrating a political stunt in its decision to shut down.
“People around the world probably will accuse the Hong Kong government of forcing Apple Daily to close down. But the fact of the matter is, they don’t need to,” he told the BBC.
As night fell, subscribers of the tabloid gathered outside its office and lit their phone flashlights as a show of solidarity. They were also heard chanting “add oil,” an expression that was used during the mass protests in 2019. Those inside returned the gesture, waving to the people below.
‘A knife over your head,’ says Apple Daily staffer
The closure comes after sustained pressure on the paper from the authorities.
Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, who has long been a critic of the Chinese Communist Party, is already in jail on a string of charges.
On 17 June, some 500 police officers raided the publication’s newsroom, saying its reports had breached the city’s new national security law, which makes undermining the government a criminal offence.
The arrests struck fear in employees at the paper and a number quit the publication soon after.
An editorial staff member at the paper described the feeling of unease as “having a knife over your head”. “If you don’t leave by yourself, you may be held criminally responsible,” she told BBC Chinese.
A current affairs reporter of the tabloid said after last week’s raid: “I had mixed feelings. On one hand, I was angry at the ruthlessness of the regime. I was sad that Hong Kong might not have Apple Daily, but I also felt fear.”