Hong Kong’s Apple Daily may be forced to stop operations within a week if its assets are not unfrozen by the city’s government, which has taken harsh action against the pro-democracy tabloid since the Chinese regime imposed its National Security Law last June.
On June 17, hundreds of Hong Kong police officers raided Apple Daily headquarters and also arrested five senior executives for violating the National Security Law. According to Hong Kong Free Press, National Security Unit Senior Superintendent Steve Li stated that the operation launched at 6 a.m. involved roughly 500 officers.
The raid was conducted on the alleged offense that Apple Daily had published 30 articles since 2019 which called on foreign powers to impose sanctions on Hong Kong or China. When Li was asked whether the articles were news or opinion pieces, the officer did not give a direct reply. “The natures of the articles is very simple, just inciting, requesting the foreign country to impose sanctions to Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China. Very straightforward,” Li told the media outlet.
When questioned as to whether people who shared such articles risk violating the National Security Law, Li stated that the police would look at their intention. “As a law enforcer, I have some advice for people – do not draw suspicion to yourself, if it is not something you wish to spread,” Li stated.
During the raid, police officers took control of the reporters’ computers and scanned them for information. Journalists were instructed to leave the editorial department and their movements inside the building were restricted. When some reporters tried to film the raid, the police blocked them. According to Li, $18 million worth of assets belonging to three companies tied to Apple Daily has been frozen.
The arrested individuals include four men and one woman. Three of them are from Apple Daily, including its Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law, Associate Publisher Chan Pui-man, and manager of the newspaper’s online platform Cheung Chi-wai. Two of them are from Apple Daily’s parent company Next Digital, which included CEO Cheung Kim-hung and Chief Operating Officer Royston Chow.
In a June 21 article, Apple Daily wrote that the police had ransacked strictly protected news materials and snatched away over 40 computers. The searches and arrests had resulted in “psychological distress” and journalists are now “much more concerned” about crossing the red line as part of their reporting.
An Apple Daily piece reads: “It is becoming very apparent that the Hong Kong national security law overrides local laws that protect people’s freedom and rights. Even news reports and commentaries that are based on facts could be regarded by the enforcement agencies to be treading the red line, and therefore lead to investigations, prosecutions, arrests, and charges. Once under prosecution, news workers are almost left with no defense or protection.”
Apple Daily was founded in 1995 by entrepreneur and activist Jimmy Lai. The publication is owned by his company Next Digital. Lai is one of the prominent figures in the city’s pro-democracy politics and a strong critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He is currently serving a 20-month prison term for his involvement in the 2019 Hong Kong democracy protests.
Apple Daily has been regarded as a trusted source of news by several surveys. A Reuters poll conducted in 2019 ranked Apple Daily newspaper as having the third highest weekly reach in the city among offline media, with its website having the second highest reach among online media.
The end of Apple Daily?
An article by Apple Daily states that the publication could be just “days away from having to shut down.” The board of directors of Next Digital met on Monday, June 21, and decided to take a final decision on the matter on June 25. The board has sent a letter to John Lee, the city’s secretary of security, requesting to unfreeze a portion of the frozen assets so as to pay the employees.
If the Friday meeting concludes with a decision to cease operations, Apple Daily would print its last paper on Saturday and its website is also expected to stop updating early in the morning.
An internal memo sent to employees by Apple Daily management and obtained by HKFP stated that employees were free to resign without any formal notice in light of the “grim situation.” Employees who are working outside the office or are on leave can first leave a message and later submit a resignation letter.
“The management’s wish is for everyone to do their work proudly until the very end, but it is hard to estimate the risks. To leave or not, it is up to people to decide. For those who remain, we still hope to meet Apple’s standards and spare no effort in completing our work,” the memo said.
Apple Daily employs around 600 journalists. Mark Simon, an advisor to Jimmy Lai, told Reuters that some of the staff members have received threatening calls from unknown sources. “Our staff are now just worried about personal safety,” he said, adding that the publication might shut down in “a matter of days.”
The United States has condemned the arrests of five people linked to Apple Daily and Next Digital and has called for their immediate release. U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price called the foreign collusion charge against Apple Daily as being politically motivated.
“We are deeply concerned by Hong Kong authorities’ selective use of the national security law to arbitrarily target independent media organizations… As we all know, exchanging views with foreigners in journalism should never be a crime,” Price said, according to Associated Press.
Pro-democracy media outlets in Hong Kong have increasingly been facing attacks of late. In April, the printing warehouse of The Epoch Times was ransacked by a gang of four masked and armed men. A month later, a reporter with the outlet was attacked with a baseball bat.
Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) expressed anger over the incident. “Press freedom is a core value of Hong Kong’s success, and we will never tolerate any threats of violence against the media and journalists,” the organization said.