U.S. lawmakers and rights groups sounded alarms after Hong Kong’s pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily ceased operations on Thursday.
Apple Daily, one of the only remaining media outlets in Hong Kong that was publishing voices critical of the Chinese regime and views supportive of Hong Kong protesters, printed its last edition on June 24. Its website is now inaccessible, as well as its mobile app, Twitter account, and YouTube channel.
The paper said its decision to close was based on “employee safety and manpower considerations.” The outlet was in a financial crunch after Hong Kong authorized the freeze of HK$18 million ($2.3 million) worth of assets from three companies linked to the paper on June 17. The seizure was part of a local police operation that raided the paper’s headquarters on the same day and the arrest of five of its directors.
Two of the directors are now facing collusion charges, a crime punishable by life imprisonment under the city’s draconian national security law. The paper’s founder, Jimmy Lai, is currently in prison while waiting for a separate national security trial.
Also on June 23, Hong Kong police arrested Yeung Ching-kee, an opinion writer for Apple Daily who goes by the pen name Li Ping, on collusion charges.
Hundreds of supporters gathered outside of Apple Daily’s headquarters on the evening of June 23 to show their support after the paper announced its closure earlier on Wednesday. Supporters waved their cellphone lights and the paper’s employees waved back with their own phones from the building’s balcony.
Supporters also shouted slogans, including “Thank you to all the journalists” and “Hongkongers, add oil,” meaning “keep it up” in Chinese. They also left notes and cards on the railings outside the building to thank the paper and its staff.
One of the supporters, a woman surnamed Li, said she was touched to see other locals turning out to support the paper. She criticized Beijing’s national security law, saying that people who don’t approve of it will become a target of the local authorities.
Other locals chose to show their support by lining up at newsstands in the early hours on June 24, some buying multiple copies of the Thursday paper. Long lines were spotted at Hong Kong’s Mong Kok district. Apple Daily said it would print 1 million copies of its last edition.
In response to the Hong Kong government’s actions that have forced Apple Daily’s closure, several U.S. lawmakers have publicly voiced their concerns on Twitter.
Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticized the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), saying the regime “has succeeded in shutting down free speech” in Hong Kong.
“Another blow to democracy in Hong Kong, a sad day for freedom of the press, & a heartbreak for the brave journalists who risked it all in the pursuit of truth & transparency,” wrote Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) stated that Hong Kong “has descended into the dark ages” following Apple Daily’s forced closure. He added, “A CCP-controlled city with no rule of law or protections for basic rights can’t be an international financial hub.”
Pro-Beijing Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has defended the Apple Daily raids and arrests. On June 24, the Office of the Commissioner at the CCP’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong issued a statement demanding that foreign politicians to stop “interfering in China’s internal affairs” by voicing their opinions about Hong Kong’s press freedom.
The United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada, and Taiwan, have all voiced their condemnation over the erosion of press freedom in Hong Kong. The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, an international cross-party group of legislators, called for “targeted sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for the violation of international law and abuse of human rights in Hong Kong.”
“The [Apple Daily’s] closure is a blow to the journalism community in Hong Kong and raises legitimate concerns over the future of press freedom in the city,” the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong said in a statement.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association, together with seven local media unions and organizations, issued a joint statement, saying that their members will wear black on June 24 “in protest of the government’s blow against freedom of press.”
The Hong Kong bureau of The Epoch Times contributed to this article.