On Thursday, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and legislators condemned the forced closure of the pro-democratic Apple Daily in Hong Kong, slamming the move as suppression of freedom of speech.
Tsai said on Facebook that she was “deeply saddened” by the forced silence of Apple Daily after its tycoon and executives were arrested and assets frozen under the Beijing-imposed national security law in Hong Kong.
She said that the tabloid, which printed the last edition on Thursday, is Hongkongers’ symbol of freedom. The vocal newspaper never bows to pressure from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and persisted in memorializing the June 4 Tiananmen Massacre, standing with pro-democratic protesters and covering public outcry against the national security law.
“I want to tell the secretly ecstatic authoritarians that freedom and democracy are like a tree. It could be cut down, but the seeds have been sown in every corner of the land. There are always a few seeds that will grow into another big tree,” she said.
Tsai told Hong Kong people that democratic Taiwan would stand with them to strive for freedom.
Lai Ching-te, Taiwan’s Vice President, said on Facebook on June 23, “To silence the media by rude means is to deprive freedom and violate human rights.”
“The raids and arrests have … a chilling effect on the press in Hong Kong,” he said of the police raid of the Apply Daily headquarters on June 17. “Calling on the Beijing authorities to immediately stop suppressing the media and freedom of speech!”
Lai said the promise the Chinese regime made that Hong Kong would remain unchanged for 50 years after the handover of the city to the regime on July 1, 1997, was still in his ears, and that “in a short period of time it is regrettable to easily break promises and leave Hong Kong in a killing atmosphere that inhibits the expression of different opinions.”
“The people of Hong Kong have no fear of dictatorship,” Lai added. The day after the raid Apply Daily sold more than 500,000 copies as Hongkongers, “hold on to the voice of freedom that is facing harm.”
“Friends in Hong Kong, don’t be discouraged, #Everyone must withstand it, after dark, dawn will come!” Lai said.
You Si-kun, the president of the Legislative Yuan, pointed out that the CCP has chipped away at Hong Kong’s freedom. He said democratic countries should take heed of it.
“Hong Kong has inspired several generations of Asian people to visualize and seek freedom with its mass communication and film industry. Nowadays, under the situation of the CCP forcibly taking over Hong Kong, those who pursue democracy and freedom have become a thorn in the CCP’s eye,” You said on Wednesday.
The ruling Democratic Progressive Party at the Legislature in Taiwan urged the international community to continue supporting Hong Kong and speak up for their freedom.
The almost 26-year-old Apple Daily announced it was closing on Wednesday, citing “current circumstances prevailing in Hong Kong.”
The press had gained a following as a vocal defender for the pro-democratic movement. Its inaugural editorial stated, “what we want is the support of readers, not the backing of any forces,” which the press believed echoed until the last day.
“We are convinced that Hongkongers who are accustomed to freedom will not stay silent in the face of unreasonable restrictions and unfair treatments, for Hongkongers are born with a passion for freedom.”
On Wednesday night, hundreds turned up outside the headquarter of Apple Daily in the rain, shining mobile phone lights and sending their encouragement.
The founder of the press, Jimmy Lai, is now serving a 20-month prison term for participating in a pro-democracy assembly that was deemed unlawful under the national security law. Digital’s CEO and Apple Daily’s editor in chief, who were arrested in the mass raid last week, were denied bail after being charged with “collusion with a foreign country.” Hong Kong authorities alleged over 30 articles published on Apple Daily breached the national security law, but they refused to disclose a detailed list.
Zhong Yuan contributed to this report.