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Besieged pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily announces shutdown

Hong Kong police set up a cordon on Thursday outside the headquarters of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, which announced it was shutting down. (Kin Cheung / Associated Press)

Hong Kong’s main independent newspaper, Apple Daily, announced its closure on Wednesday and would print its last issue on Thursday, succumbing to an unprecedented campaign by the Beijing-backed government to silence a popular tabloid at the center of the city’s democratic movement.

The move came hours after police arrested a newspaper columnist and days after authorities froze $ 2.3 million in company assets and arrested five editors and executives under the Draconian law on the national security of the territory, imposed last year by the Communist Party in power in mainland China.

The newspaper is accused of plotting with foreign countries to impose sanctions on China and Hong Kong over the territory’s diminishing autonomy – charges widely seen as a pretext by authorities to muzzle dissent.

The board of directors of Apple Daily’s parent company, Next Digital, released a statement citing “current circumstances in Hong Kong” as the reason the newspaper would print its final issue on Thursday.

The shutdown ends a newspaper that broke into the scene two years before the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997 with a mix of sordid reporting, gossip and coverage from mainland China that irritated the Communist regime.

Owned and operated by brash clothing mogul Jimmy Lai, Apple Daily made little effort to hide its editorial stance in support of democracy and continued autonomy for Hong Kong, which was guaranteed for 50 years. years under the transfer agreement signed by Britain and China.

Lai, 73, has been jailed since December and faces several charges, including participating in an illegal demonstration and violating the National Security Law.

Experts say Apple Daily’s days were numbered after China launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent following protests in 2019 against an extradition bill that pulled millions out of the country. streets of Hong Kong and sparked months of violent protests.

Armed with the nebulously-worded national security law that targets subversion, separatism and collusion with foreign forces, Beijing has systematically dismantled the pillars of Hong Kong society that once distinguished the Asian financial center of 7 million. people from the authoritarian continent.

Since last year, almost all of the leading figures in democracy have been imprisoned. The city’s legislature is no longer comprised of opposition members, schools have overhauled teaching materials and fired teachers critical of China, and art exhibitions and cinemas censor politically sensitive content.

The government’s campaign against Apple Daily, which included raids on its newsroom by hundreds of police officers, puts an end to months of scrutiny of Hong Kong’s once vibrant independent media landscape.

Earlier this year, officials gutted the city’s public broadcaster, Radio Television Hong Kong, firing journalists, cutting shows deemed critical of the government and appointing a new editor with no media experience.

The city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, warned at a press conference on Tuesday that news outlets should not “subvert” the government and urged reporters to only carry out “normal journalistic work”.

Hong Kong saw its ranking in the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders drop to 80th place out of 180 countries, compared to 58th in 2013.

The shutdown of Apple Daily is “a blow to press freedom and freedom of expression in Hong Kong,” said Ronson Chan, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Assn. “Hong Kong people are already losing all kinds of freedoms. Under the National Security Law, the red line is hidden and invisible.

Times writer Pierson reported from Singapore and Special Envoy Liu from Hong Kong.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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