Why Is Beijing Punishing Hong Kong’s Apple Daily?

June 25, 2021 Updated: June 25, 2021


Hong Kong’s pro-democracy tabloid, Apple Daily, has printed its last edition on June 24 before shutting down. Apple Daily is no longer a newspaper but a symbol.

On June 17, Hong Kong police arrested five top executives of the company. Five hundred police officers searched the newsroom for evidence of the company violating the national security law which was imposed by Beijing on the city in 2020.

In a press briefing, Hong Kong police claimed that since 2019, Apple Daily had published more than 30 articles calling on countries to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and mainland China—an offense that violated the draconian national security law.

The chief executive officer, chief operating officer, deputy chief editor, editor-in-chief, and chief executive editor were all arrested. This marks the second raid of Apple Daily in less than a year.

Apple Daily
Police officers conduct a raid at the Apple Daily office in Hong Kong on June 17, 2021. (Apple Daily via Getty Images)

Last August, Hong Kong police raided Apple Daily and arrested its founder, Li Zhiying, most notably known as Jimmy Lai, as well as his two sons. Hong Kong authorities alleged that Apple Daily and its parent company, Next Media, were suspected of violating Article 29 of the national security law: “conspiracy to collude with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security.” The collusion charge carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Lai 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.

During the latest raid, more than a hundred police officers patrolled Apple Daily headquarters. All staff and persons entering the building were required to register with their legal identification and company identification. They were also required to provide personal information, including phone numbers and addresses. The computers of all editors and reporters were temporarily seized. Apple Daily claimed that reporters were asked to leave the editorial department.

The homes of the arrested executives were searched by Hong Kong police, looking for evidence in a suspected violation of the national security law. In addition, the Hong Kong police also froze $18 million HKD (about $2.3 million) of assets under Next Media.

This is the largest action against the media since the the national security law was implemented by the Chinese regime in Hong Kong last year, and the first incident of police publicly arresting journalists.

jimmy lai
Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai is led into a police van as he heads to court to be charged under the Beijing-imposed controversial new national security law, on Dec. 12, 2020. (Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images)

On June 14, Lai was given the Truman-Reagan Freedom Award, issued by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. The Foundation’s chairman, Andrew Bremberg, called on the free world to support Hong Kong as a beacon of freedom and to stop people like Lai from becoming victims of communist regimes.

Jimmy Lai’s Anti-Communist Stance

When Lai was 12 years old, he snuck into Hong Kong from Guangzhou on a boat. As a grown man, he would go on to build a clothing empire, Giordano. In the early years, Lai maintained a good relationship with mainland Chinese officials. Giordano was first established as a joint venture with China Resources, and its factory was located in China.

However, after the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989, Lai ended his relationship with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He went on to set up Next Media and Apple Daily, two resolutely anti-communist publications. Lai not only ran the companies, but he also wrote articles criticizing CCP leaders.

Apple Daily aroused criticism and controversy for its tabloid gossip coverage, but it became the best-selling newspaper in Hong Kong.

Epoch Times Photo
A man buys multiple copies of the latest Apple Daily newspaper in Hong Kong on June 18, 2021. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

What sets Apple Daily apart from other newspapers in Hong Kong is its anti-communist stance, which has remained unchanged amid the city’s political drama. Apple Daily played a very important role in covering the Umbrella Movement in 2014 and the anti-extradition bill movement that began in 2019 and ended in 2020.

In addition to his media company, Lai remains deeply involved in Hong Kong politics and has donated money to the city’s Democratic Party.

Money and media power are what the CCP’s authoritarian system fear most. Therefore, Lai is referred to as one of the backbones of chaos in Hong Kong by the city’s Communist Party. Jimmy Lai, Next Media, and Apple Daily have become the number one enemy of the Chinese Communist Party’s system of ruling Hong Kong.

In the past eight years, Chinese authorities have pressured businesses to withdraw advertisements from the paper and threatened Lai’s business partners.

In the summer of 2019, Lai traveled to Washington, D.C. and met with top U.S. officials to discuss the controversial extradition bill and Hong Kong’s autonomy. At that time, I interviewed him for an event for a think tank in Washington.

Lai expressed very clearly that he did not support Hong Kong’s independence, but he sympathized with the Hong Kong youth’s dreams for the city’s independence. He also called on the U.S. government not to impose economic and trade sanctions on Hong Kong at the time, so that the city wouldn’t become solely reliant on China for trade. Despite this, I was surprised when Apple Daily was charged under the national security law.

Hong Kong authorities accused Apple Daily of publishing an article calling for economic sanctions against China and Hong Kong, which allegedly constitutes collusion with foreign forces to endanger China.

Lai does not approve of economic sanctions against Hong Kong, but I do not know whether he approves of sanctions against the CCP. I have never found a public statement from him on this matter.

Since the national security law was passed, some people fear that it could be applied retroactively and target certain individuals for actions committed in the past. Will statements made after the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre be traced back? Will it go back to the 1950s when landlords and right-wing capitalists fled the mainland in defiance of the CCP’s rule?

This is the dangerous practice of communist groups. During the Cultural Revolution, there were crimes charged against Chinese citizens that traced back to the eighteenth generations of ancestors. Even Confucius, who lived 2,500 years ago, was charged as an anti-Chinese and an enemy of the CCP.

Luo Huining, director of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Hong Kong, said at a forum on June 12 that in Beijing’s view, the CCP governs through the “one country two systems” framework and anyone who opposes the CCP’s one-party rule is the “enemy of Hong Kong who seeks to undermine Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity.”

Luo said that under the national security law, Hong Kong has not suffered economic damage and foreign capital has remained steady. This is just a short-term illusion. The recent international summits in Europe have formed a consensus on the CCP, and the strategies to combat the CCP will be released one by one in the coming years. The effect of the global allies countering the CCP may be hard to imagine.

Alexander Liao is a columnist and journalist in research on international affairs in the United States, China, and Southeast Asia. He has published a large number of reports, commentaries, and video programs in newspapers and Chinese financial magazines in the United States and Hong Kong.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Alexander Liao
Alexander Liao
Alexander Liao is a journalist who covers international affairs, focused on the United States, China, and Southeast Asia. His work has been published in newspapers and financial magazines in the United States and Hong Kong.