Apple Daily, pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong, says it will close

By Austin Ramzy and Tiffany May

Apple Daily, a popular newspaper in Hong Kong, has long needled Beijing with its rambunctious support of pro-democracy protesters, aggressive investigations of the city’s officials and lampooning of China’s Communist Party leadership. Now China has effectively silenced the paper — and along with it, one of its most defiant critics.

Apple Daily said Wednesday that it was closing less than a week after the police froze its accounts, raided its offices and arrested top editors, as the government’s escalating campaign against dissent takes aim at the city’s once vaunted media freedoms.

The forced closure of Apple Daily struck a blow to the unique character of the city itself and, in some ways, signaled the end of an era. The paper churned out stories on celebrity gossip and lurid scandals, as well as hard-hitting political news and analysis, always with a decidedly anti-government slant and an irreverence antithetical to what the Communist Party would allow in the mainland. Even in the face of advertising boycotts, assaults on its journalists and firebomb attacks, the paper persevered and thrived, living proof of the freedoms Hong Kong enjoyed despite its return to Chinese rule in 1997.

When anti-government protests erupted in Hong Kong in 2019, posing the greatest political challenge to Beijing in decades, Apple Daily was an unabashed supporter of the movement, even printing placards for demonstrators. But when Beijing moved to quash resistance to its rule in the city with a powerful and sweeping national security law that squeezed space for dissent, Apple Daily quickly became a key target.

First, the authorities arrested the paper’s pugnacious founder, Jimmy Lai, last year, and charged him with national security offenses that carry a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. While in detention, he was also sentenced to prison for 20 months for involvement in illegal protests.

Then on June 17, hundreds of police officers raided the newspaper’s newsroom, hauling off computers, freezing its assets and arresting top editors and executives. Ryan Law, the editor-in-chief, and Cheung Kim-hung, CEO of Next Digital, the paper’s parent company, were charged with conspiracy to commit collusion with foreign powers under the security law, and were denied bail.

On Wednesday, police arrested one of the paper’s journalists, Yeung Ching-kee, who wrote columns and editorials under the pen name Li Ping. Yeung could see the writing on the wall for his employer after Lai’s arrest in August. China’s Communist Party and its allies in Hong Kong “have decided to strangle Apple Daily, to kill Hong Kong’s freedom of press and freedom of speech,” Yeung wrote.

“Even when the democratic world increases the sanctioning actions toward them, they would just intensify the suppression and prosecution against Apple Daily, in the hope that they would succumb to the pressure and surrender or stop publishing,” he wrote.

As China’s attitude toward Hong Kong hardened over the past year, Lai anticipated that his paper’s days were numbered. In a guest essay for The Times in May 2020, he wrote that he had long feared that the Communist Party “would grow tired not only of Hong Kong’s free press but also of its free people.”

This past week, that fate seemed unavoidable for Apple Daily. As the paper marked its final days, readers flocked to newsstands to snap up copies. Politicians who had been both skewered and celebrated in its pages contemplated a city without one of its biggest, most audacious media voices.

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