Apple Daily, regarded as among the few independent media outlets in Hong Kong, will halt its operations by midnight on June 25 with its last print edition coming on June 24, after police froze assets linked to the paper and arrested its executives.
The popular daily tabloid made the announcement shortly after the board of directors of Next Digital Ltd., Apple Daily’s parent company, said on June 23 that it “regrets to announce” the decision to close the pro-democracy newspaper, citing “current circumstances prevailing in Hong Kong.”
Next Digital is an investment holding company with a focus on media and publishing businesses. The Next Digital board had previously said that the last print edition would be on June 26 with the digital version accessible until 11:59 p.m. on the same day.
“The company thanks our readers for their loyal support and our journalists, staff, and advertisers for their commitment over the past 26 years,” the board said in a statement.
London-based NGO Hong Kong Watch released a statement in support of Apple Daily on June 23, saying its closure marked “a dark day for Hong Kong.”
The move to end operations comes after more than 500 police officers raided the newspaper’s headquarters on June 17 and arrested five executives on suspicion of colluding with foreigners to endanger national security, an ambiguous offense under the draconian national security law imposed by Beijing last year.
Hong Kong police cited more than 30 articles published by Apple Daily in accusing the newspaper of being part of an alleged conspiracy to impose foreign sanctions on Hong Kong and China, saying that the reports breached the national security law. It marks the first case in which authorities have cited media articles as potentially violating the legislation.
Authorities have also frozen HK$18 million ($2.3 million) in assets of three companies linked to the paper.
On June 18, two Apple Daily executives were charged in Hong Kong with colluding with “a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security” under Article 29 of the national security law that went into effect in July 2020.
Apple Daily is known for its critical coverage of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the current pro-Beijing Hong Kong government over past years of mass protests.
Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who founded Next Digital and owns Apple Daily, is currently jailed, serving multiple sentences over his participation in multiple pro-democracy demonstrations.
More than 100 people have been arrested under the national security law to date.
Earlier on Jue 23, Hong Kong police arrested a 55-year-old man “on suspicion of conspiring to collude with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security.” Apple Daily identified the man as its lead opinion writer who uses the pseudonym Li Ping.
The publication’s forced closure has drawn condemnation from the UK and the European Union. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described it as a “chilling blow to freedom of expression in Hong Kong.”
“It is crystal clear that the powers under the national security law are being used as a tool to curtail freedoms and punish dissent—rather than keep public order,” Raab said in a statement.
The EU also condemned the “erosion of press freedom” in Hong Kong.
“The closure of Apple Daily’s Hong Kong operations clearly shows how the national security law imposed by Beijing is being used to stifle freedom of the press and the free expression of opinions,” Nabila Massrali, the EU’s spokesperson for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy, said in a statement.
“Its closing seriously undermines media freedom and pluralism, which are essential for any open and free society. The erosion of press freedom is also counter to Hong Kong’s aspirations as an international business hub.”