Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Strangling free speech in Hong Kong

Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily to shut down on Saturday

Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily is to cease its print and online operations on Saturday. Its publishing company cited "the current circumstances prevailing in Hong Kong."

Hong Kong's pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily is closing its print and digital editions on Saturday, publishing company Next Digital said in a statement on Wednesday.

"Due to the current circumstances prevailing in Hong Kong, Apple Daily in its print form will come to an end no later than the last edition on Saturday 26 June 2021 and the digital version will no longer be accessible no later than 11:59 p.m. on Saturday 26 June 2021," Next Digital said in a press release. 

Earlier on Wednesday, Hong Kong police carried out more arrests at Apple Daily, widening the scope of the operation against the paper. 

Police announced the arrest of a 55-year-old man "on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security."

While a senior executive at Next Digital said a lead writer for editorials and a reporter had been arrested, a police representative told the media that there was no immediate information on a second arrest.

Police action against the paper was the first time the sweeping national security law had been used against journalists for something they had published, signaling an intensifying crackdown by authorities in Hong Kong.

How did it come to this?

Hundreds of police had raided Apple Daily last week in a national security probe in which senior executives of the newspaper were arrested over allegations of "collusion with a foreign country." 

Five Apple Daily executives were arrested, making it the first time a new national security law was used to arrest top editors of a media agency.

Editor-in-chief Ryan Law Wai-kwong, chief operating officer (COO) as well as publisher Cheung Kim-hung, who is also the CEO of Next Digital, were among those arrested.

"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."

Ronson Chan, the head of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, called on the government to fulfill the promise of safeguarding press freedom in the city.

"We will be very worried if there are consequences for writing an article. I'm afraid that it will make society feel, or how I feel now, that people can be put in prison because of what they write. It leads to a huge worry for the city’s freedom of speech," she said.

British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab described the forced closure of the  Apple Daily as "a chilling blow to freedom of expression in Hong Kong."

"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.

Who is behind the Apple Daily?

The Apple Daily was founded in 1995 by billionaire mogul Jimmy Lai.

Lai had left mainland China for Hong Kong as a young child. He made a fortune selling clothes and increasingly became more political following the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. He later founded a media empire. 

mvb, dvv/msh (AFP, Reuters)

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