Hong Kong's Apple Daily to Print Last Edition on Thursday

The paper says it is being forced to close to protect employees following the arrest of a high-profile columnist under the national security law.
Hong Kong's Apple Daily to Print Last Edition on Thursday Members of the press take photos as executive editor-in-chief Lam Man Chung proofreads the final edition of Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper, June 23, 2021.

Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper said on Wednesday it will be shutting down operations following a raid on its headquarters by national security police and the arrests of several executives for "collusion with foreign powers."

"The management of the Apple Daily have decided to stop operations immediately after midnight, out of concern for employee safety and manpower," the paper said in a report on its website on Wednesday.

"The last print edition of the newspaper will be published tomorrow (June 24), and the website will stop updating after midnight," the report said.

"The Apple Daily would like to thank all of its readers, subscribers, advertisers and the people of Hong Kong for their love and support over the past 26 years," it said. "This is farewell."

The board of directors of the paper's parent company Next Digital had earlier announced that the paper would stop operations "no later than 11.59 p.m. on Saturday."

The announcement came after an op-ed writer widely known by his penname Li Ping, was arrested by national security police on Wednesday on suspicion of "collusion with a foreign power," under a draconian national security law imposed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on Hong Kong from July 1, 2020.

Yeung Ching-kee, 55, was the author of the Apple Daily's Ping On column, and is the first newspaper columnist to be arrested under the law.

A native of Fujian and a graduate Shanghai's Fudan University, Yeung immigrated to Hong Kong in the 1990s, rising to head the Apple Daily's China department, and penning regular current affairs commentaries.

His arrest came after he wrote a column calling on the U.S. to use its Global Magnitsky human rights laws to sanction more senior Hong Kong and Chinese officials "as soon as possible."

Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, currently serving jail time for taking part in a peaceful protest, is also awaiting trial on the same charge, and is accused of calling for foreign countries to impose sanctions.

An officer who answered the phone at the Hong Kong police press office on Wednesday declined to confirm that the arrestee was Leung or to comment on the ongoing investigation.

"The police haven't ruled out the possibility of making further arrests," the officer said.

Highly effective attack

Hong Kong political commentator Willy Lam said the national security raid had been a highly effective attack on the Apple Daily and Next Digital.

"It's shocking," he said of Leung's arrest. "It shows that this is an all-out attack on the Apple Daily, and that the red lines have now moved to include commentators."

"We can no longer rule out the possibility that the government will seize on articles critical of the Hong Kong or Chinese governments, even articles that were written a while ago that they don't like, and use them against the writers or editors," Lam said.

Current affairs commentator Johnny Lam said the timing of the attack on Next Digital seemed to be significant, given that the CCP is about to celebrate the centenary of its founding on July 1, one year after the National Security Law for Hong Kong took effect.

"They are very much hoping to drown out any noise in an overwhelming tide of propaganda," Lau told RFA. "They are actually making it impossible for any unwanted voices to be heard."

"They could have taken a more relaxed attitude towards [Apple Daily] employees, but they are hoping to spread the chilling effect, thereby reducing the likelihood of dissenting voices in future," he said.

A magazine also published by Next Digital, Next Magazine, had earlier announced that it would stop updating its website early on Thursday morning.

"Next Magazine would like to thank all readers for their support," the magazine said in a news release on Wednesday.

"Goodbye everyone, and take care!" it said.

'Evidence of collusion'

The closures came after hundreds of national security police descended on the headquarters of Next Digital in Tseung Kwan O on June 17, confiscating computers and journalistic materials police said were "evidence" of collusion with foreign forces under the national security law.

Five executives were arrested, and the paper's assets totaling around H.K.$18 million were frozen by the authorities.

Chief editor Ryan Law and Next Digital CEO Cheung Kim-hung have since been charged with "collusion with foreign powers," while three other executives have been released on bail without being charged.

The Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA) had earlier called on the government to unfreeze enough of the company's assets to enable it to pay staff for work already carried out.

"The government should do everything in its power to ensure that employees of an enterprise can receive their salaries," the HKJA said in a statement on its website.

"Even if the police are investigating individuals, this should not affect hundreds of dedicated employees," it said.

Reported by Chan Yun Nam, Man Hoi Yan and Cheng Yut Yiu for RFA's Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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