Apple Daily, the pro-democracy Hong Kong tabloid founded by media tycoon Jimmy Lai, will close after its assets were frozen and its journalists were arrested, delivering a hammer blow to the city’s free press.
The newspaper said its final edition would be printed on Thursday and its website would stop being updated from midnight the same day. Next Digital, Apple Daily’s parent company, had initially said it would continue publishing until Saturday, but its closure was expedited due to concerns for its employees’ safety.
Apple Daily has long been known for its willingness to confront and criticise the government. But Lai and the newspaper became a top target for the Chinese government over their support for the pro-democracy protests that engulfed Hong Kong in 2019.
Authorities have mounted a crackdown on the Chinese territory’s civil and political life, imposing a sweeping national security law that has severely curtailed opposition and stoked fears of interference in the education system, the courts and the media.
An editorial writer for Apple Daily who uses the pen name Li Ping was arrested under the law on Wednesday. Authorities raided Apple Daily’s offices and arrested five executives, including Ryan Law, its editor-in-chief, last week.
Authorities have accused the newspaper and its executives of colluding with foreign forces by publishing calls for sanctions against the Hong Kong government in the wake of the 2019 protests and the introduction of the national security law.
Police labelled Apple Daily’s offices a “crime scene” and urged other reporters not to associate with the newspaper or its employees, in the first case of the national security law being used against journalists.
The arrests have sent shockwaves through Hong Kong’s media landscape, with some saying they had expected Apple Daily to close but did not expect to see its journalists arrested.
“Police did not rule out possibility of more arrests, and the next [target] could be other media,” said Chris Yeung, former chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association. “You don’t know when the law will be invoked against yourself, your colleagues and other media friends, that’s a very scary situation.”
Lai has already been jailed for separate offences.
Hong Kong had long been seen as a beacon of press freedom in Asia, but the media in the Chinese territory has come under increasing pressure.
“In the past, definitely Hong Kong was the regional hub for media because it was so easily to publish here and the rankings for press freedom were very high,” said Rose Luqiu, an assistant professor at Hong Kong Baptist University’s journalism department and a former journalist. “[But] there is evidence of a paradigm shift from a libertarian media system to an authoritarian media system.”