Hong Kong’s Apple Daily threatened with imminent closure

Hong Kong pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily is set to shut down after its assets were frozen by the government, limiting its ability to operate.

This follows the arrest of two of its senior executives who were charged under China’s harsh national security law after 500 police officers raided Apple Daily’s offices on June 17. The owner of the newspaper, Jimmy Lai, has already been jailed.

Critics say the actions mark a new low for press freedom in China, which was promised to free speech when the city was transferred from the UK to China in 1997. That has changed after Beijing introduced a national security law that announced a severe crackdown on civil society and politics.

The crackdown, aimed at quelling dissent displayed during mass anti-government protests in 2019, has since spread to the previously free-wheeling media. But the police action to indict Ryan Law, the editor of Apple Daily, was the first time the law has been used directly against journalists.

The newspaper has been repeatedly targeted by Chinese authorities as it is one of the last newspapers to take a strong editorial stance against the government.

The board of directors of Next Digital, the parent company of Apple Daily, which met on Monday, will make a final decision on whether to continue the publication on Friday. It plans to submit a request to the Hong Kong Security Bureau asking to unfreeze a fraction of its assets in order to pay its staff, so that the company does not break labor laws, Apple Daily reported.

The newspaper’s management were unable to find other ways to support its continued operation, said Mark Simon, Lai’s former senior advisor.

“Crowdfunding cannot work because banks are instructed not to process any payments. I’ve heard from friends who couldn’t process payments to us, ”he said.

If the authorities deny the request, the last newspaper will be published on Saturday and the news site will cease operations on Friday at midnight. Staff will be allowed to resign immediately without notice today, according to an internal notice seen by the Financial Times.

“They [police] completely and bare the last line of defense protecting press freedom, ”a Next Digital reporter told the FT.

Law and Next Digital chief executive Cheung Kim-hung were denied bail on Saturday on national security charges. They are accused of being involved in a conspiracy to encourage foreign countries to impose sanctions on Hong Kong by publishing articles encouraging such a move, police said.

Authorities also froze HK $ 18 million ($ 2.3 million) from three companies linked to Apple Daily. The shares of Next Digital were still suspended Monday after the announcement of the stop of trading last Thursday.

John Lee, the Minister of Security, accused the newspaper of criminal activity and said the police action was not a threat to press freedom. “They are different from ordinary journalists,” he said last week. “Don’t have any relationship with them. “

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