Hong Kong's pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper publishes final edition after Beijing crackdown

·5 min read
Staff outside Apple Daily's office with the final edition of the paper - REUTERS
Staff outside Apple Daily's office with the final edition of the paper - REUTERS

Apple Daily, Hong Kong's last pro-democracy paper and longtime thorn in the Chinese Communist Party’s side, will be on the newsstands for the last time on Thursday after it was forced to close amid a Beijing-sponsored crackdown on free speech.

The presses of the paper have now rolled quiet for the first time in two decades and its website has been taken down.

One million copies of the last edition of the paper were distributed on Thursday - a staggering number given Hong Kong's 7.5 million population. And by 8:30 am, the final edition was sold out across most of the city's newsstands.

The newspaper's final frontpage carried a picture of Hongkongers protesting over the paper's closure on Wednesday, with the headline "Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain".

Journalists spoke of their heartbreak at the paper's closure and loss of some 1,000 jobs.

"I have tens of thousands of words in my heart but I am speechless at this moment," Ip Yut-kin, chairman of the paper's parent company Next Digital, said.

The paper's staff cheered after publishing the final edition - REUTERS
The paper's staff cheered after publishing the final edition - REUTERS

"Thank you to all readers, subscribers, ad clients and Hongkongers for 26 years of immense love and support. Here we say goodbye, take care of yourselves," Apple Daily said in an online article.

On Wednesday night, hundreds of people stood in the rain to hold a vigil for the paper and its staff, waving torches outside the office and chanting: “We support Apple Daily till the end”.

Emotional staff waved torches back from the balcony of its newsroom, shouting: "Thank you readers! We will see you soon!"

Hongkongers queued up in the early hours to get a copy - GETTY IMAGES
Hongkongers queued up in the early hours to get a copy - GETTY IMAGES

Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, condemned the closure.

"The forced closure of Apple Daily by Hong Kong authorities is a chilling demonstration of their campaign to silence all opposition voices," Mr Raab said in a Twitter post. "It is clearer than ever that the NSL (National Security Law) is being used to curtail freedom and punish dissent."

It is a bitter ending for a publication that championed free speech and democratic values in the former British colony.

Its editor, Jimmy Lai, has been jailed for 20 months for taking part in unauthorised protests in 2019 and faces a possible further life sentence under the NSL.

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Mr Lai, a self-made tycoon who was smuggled from mainland China into Hong Kong on a fishing boat at the age of 12, founded the publication in 1995, but its future became precarious after Beijing began a wide-ranging crackdown on the semi-autonomous territory in 2019.

Apple Daily has staunchly supported Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, which has been brought to its knees by the NSL imposed by Beijing a year ago that makes it easier to punish dissent.

"Every journalist in Hong Kong now has a metaphorical gun pointed at their heads," Sharron Fast, a lecturer at the University of Hong Kong's journalism school, said.

"When the result of your writing can lead to lifetime imprisonment - you are being censored. Apple will not be the last - just the latest."

“Only a bunch of pro-Beijing newspapers are left after Apple Daily dies,” said Ms Wu, a housewife who declined to give her first name. “How can a newspaper divide a country? It’s impossible. We have already lost our assembly rights, and now freedom of press comes to an end.”

Authorities froze the paper’s assets last Thursday, the same day that hundreds of police officers raided its headquarters, arrested five editors and executives, and seized what the paper said was “considerable” journalistic material.

The final issue was delivered to stands on Thursday morning - GETTY IMAGES
The final issue was delivered to stands on Thursday morning - GETTY IMAGES

The paper had vowed to fight on in a letter to its readers, but on Wednesday its board of directors said print and online editions would stop this week due to “the current circumstances prevailing in Hong Kong.”

After the raid last week, the paper increased its print run and Hongkongers flocked to buy multiple copies to show their support. But the freezing of the paper’s HK$18 million (£1.7 million) assets has left it unable to pay wages.

Police detained the five editors and executives on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security, and said they had found more than 30 newspaper and online articles that allegedly called on foreign countries or institutions to place sanctions on Hong Kong and China.

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai posing at Apple Daily's new office in June 1995. Now, he is in jail and the paper is shutting down. - Mike CLARKE/ AFP
Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai posing at Apple Daily's new office in June 1995. Now, he is in jail and the paper is shutting down. - Mike CLARKE/ AFP

It marked the first time the national security law – which criminalises anything Beijing considers subversive – has been used against the press, chilling a city that was once considered a bastion of media freedom.

On Wednesday, police arrested one of Apple Daily’s top columnists, the paper reported.

The 55-year-old man, who goes by the pseudonym Li Ping, was arrested under the NSL on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security.

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