The UK and the EU condemned the erosion of press freedom in Hong Kong on Wednesday after a pro-democracy newspaper announced its closure.
Apple Daily, regarded as among the few independent media outlets in Hong Kong, will halt its operations by midnight on Wednesday after police arrested its executives and froze assets linked to the paper, rendering it unable to maintain operations.
“The forced closure of Apple Daily by the Hong Kong authorities is a chilling blow to freedom of expression in Hong Kong,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.
“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,” he said.
Raab said the Chinese regime had promised to protect press freedom and freedom of speech in Hong Kong under the UK-Sino Joint Declaration.
“It must keep its promises, and stand by the commitments it freely assumed,” he said.
The European Union 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,” she said.
Massrali said the EU also recalls that these freedoms had been enshrined in the Hong Kong Basic Law, and the Chinese regime had committed to respect them under the Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
“All rights enshrined in the Basic Law under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle should be fully protected and restored,” she said.
The Joint Declaration was supposed to guarantee Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy for 50 years following the handover of the territory by Britain to China in 1997.
Chinese state media has previously dismissed the treaty as a “historical document” which had been “invalid and expired” for a long time.
More than 500 police officers raided Apple Daily’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. Two of the executives were charged the next day.
Hong Kong police cited over 30 articles published by the popular tabloid, accusing them of being part of an alleged conspiracy to impose foreign sanctions on Hong Kong and China, and said that the reports breached the national security law. It marks the first case where authorities have alleged media reports as violating the national security law.
Authorities also froze HK$18 million ($2.3 million) worth of assets from three companies linked to the paper.
Apple Daily is known for its critical coverage of the Chinese Communist Party 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 in jail, 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.
Mimi Nguyen Ly and PA contributed to this report.