“It is a sad day for media freedom in Hong Kong and around the world,” Biden said in a June 24 statement, hours after the publication’s formal closure.
After suffering a massive police raid a week earlier and having their funds frozen by the Hong Kong government, the outlet—one of the few independent media sources in the city—printed its final edition on June 24, distributing 1 million copies.
Its website, social media accounts, and mobile app are no longer accessible. The paper had said that it made the decision over their staff’s safety and manpower considerations.
Biden hailed Apple Daily as “a much-needed bastion of independent journalism in Hong Kong,” saying that people “in Hong Kong have the right to freedom of the press.”
“Beijing must stop targeting the independent press,” he said, also calling for the release of arrested journalists. “The act of journalism is not a crime.”
Following the raid, five editors and executives at Apple Daily and its parent company, Next Digital Ltd., were arrested on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces, a violation of the national security law that carries a penalty of up to a lifetime in prison. The court has denied bail for two executives. On June 23, the police arrested a sixth employee—chief columnist Yeung Ching-kee—using the law.
“Through arrests, threats, and forcing through a national security law that penalizes free speech, Beijing has insisted on wielding its power to suppress independent media and silence dissenting views,” Biden said.
He pledged that the United States “will not waiver in our support of people in Hong Kong and all those who stand up for the basic freedoms all people deserve.”
Several countries including Japan, the UK, the European Union, Canada, and Taiwan have criticized the shutdown of Apple Daily, calling it a blow to Hong Kong’s press freedom. China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, in response, dismissed the criticisms as an act of “point[ing] fingers.”
Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, a staunch Beijing critic, has been in jail since December, accused of participating in unauthorized rallies during Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests back in 2019 and allegedly endangering national security.
On June 24, Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. human rights chief, criticized Lai’s detention, saying he was among others who have “faced negative consequences for the exercise of their fundamental human rights.”
In a joint statement with seven other journalist associations and press unions, Hong Kong Journalists Association expressed “anger and pain for the loss of this much valued multi-media press group that had long been pursuing and defending journalism.”
“We cannot take to the streets to express our dissatisfaction, as we are bound by the group gathering ban, but it won’t keep us silent,” the groups said.
“As a demonstration of unity,” the groups said, their members will dress in black “in protest of the government’s blow against freedom of press.”