July 24, 2021

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Apple Daily, Pro-Democracy Newspaper in Hong Kong, Says it Will Close – The New York Times

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HONG KONG — Apple Daily, a defiantly pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong, said on Wednesday that it would cease operations, as the authorities ramped up pressure on the publication in a campaign that has raised concerns over the state of media freedoms in the city.

The newspaper said it would stop publishing in print and online by Thursday, after the police last week froze its accounts and arrested top editors and executives.

The closure will silence one of the biggest and most aggressive media outlets in the city, highlighting the vast reach of the security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing last year. Apple Daily has been a thorn in the side of the Communist Party of China for decades, and Beijing has long targeted its founder, Jimmy Lai, for his criticism of Chinese and Hong Kong authorities.

The police raided Apple Daily’s newsroom last Thursday, arresting two senior executives and three top editors. On Wednesday, they arrested another journalist, Yeung Ching-kee, who wrote columns and editorials for the newspaper.

Mr. Yeung, who uses the pen name Li Ping, wrote last year that 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.”

“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.

Last week the Hong Kong authorities froze Apple Daily’s bank accounts, making it impossible to pay staff and vendors. Mark Simon, an aide to Mr. Lai, said on Monday that with the newspaper’s accounts closed, it could not pay staff or receive payments from vendors.

Ryan Law, Apple Daily’s editor in chief, and Cheung Kim-hung, chief executive of Next Digital, were charged with conspiracy to commit collusion with foreign powers under the security law. They have been denied bail.

Mr. Law and Mr. Cheung were accused of conspiring with Mr. Lai to call for sanctions against Hong Kong, which is a violation of the security law. Last year the United States imposed sanctions on Hong Kong and Chinese officials over Beijing’s clampdown on the city.

Mr. Lai, who is serving a 20-month prison sentence for illegal assembly convictions, has also been charged with national security law violations. He faces a potential life sentence.

After making his first fortune in clothing, Mr. Lai pursued media ventures after the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen protest movement in 1989.

“I made enough money for my life,” he told The New York Times last year. “I said, OK, let’s go into the media, because I believe in the media by delivering information, you’re actually delivering freedom.”

Mr. Lai’s publications pursued celebrity gossip and political scandal with equal verve. But Beijing also identified him as one of its leading enemies in Hong Kong and blamed him for fanning the vast antigovernment protests that erupted in 2019.

He anticipated his arrest under the national security law in a guest essay for the New York Times on May 29 last year, writing that since Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997, he feared that the Communist Party “would grow tired not only of Hong Kong’s free press but also of its free people.”

The national security law “will mark the end of free expression and many of the individual liberties so cherished in the city,” he wrote. “Hong Kong is moving from the rule of law to rule by law, with the Chinese Communist Party determining all the new rules of this game,” he wrote.

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