The final edition of Hong Kong’s last remaining pro-democracy paper sold out in hours on Thursday as readers scooped up all 1 million copies of the Apple Daily, whose closure was yet another sign of China’s tightening grip on the semi-autonomous city.
Across the densely populated metropolis, people lined up early in the morning to buy the paper, which in recent years has become an increasingly outspoken critic of China’s efforts to limit the freedoms found here but not in mainland China. The paper was gone from newsstands by 8:30 a.m.
The newspaper said it was forced to cease operations after police froze $2.3 million of its assets, searched its office and arrested five top editors and executives last week, accusing them of foreign collusion to endanger national security.
“This is our last day, and last edition, does this reflect the reality that Hong Kong has started to lose its press freedom and freedom of speech?” an Apple Daily graphic designer, Dickson Ng, asked in comments to The Associated Press. “Why does it have to end up like this?”
The paper printed 1 million copies of its last edition — up from the usual 80,000.
On the front page was splashed an image of an employee in the newspaper’s office waving to supporters surrounding the building, with the headline “Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain.”
While pro-democracy media outlets still exist online, it was the only print newspaper of its kind left in the city.
The pressure on the paper reflects a crackdown on Hong Kong’s civil liberties, ramped up after massive anti-government protests in 2019.
In response, authorities imposed a sweeping national security law — used in the arrests of the newspaper employees — and overhauled Hong Kong’s election laws to keep opposition figures out of the legislature.
Dissenting voices have been almost completely silenced in the city long known as an oasis of liberty on mainland China’s doorstep. The increasing restrictions have come despite China’s promise to protect Hong Kong’s autonomy for 50 years after the city’s 1997 handover from Britain.
The closure of Apple Daily raises the specter that other media outlets — such as the more than 100-year-old English-language South China Morning Post — will become more cautious.
That paper has thus far continued to report on controversial issues in Hong Kong and on mainland China, even after its owner, business titan Jack Ma, dropped from sight last year after publicly criticizing Chinese government policies.
Taiwan’s agency responsible for Chinese issues lamented the paper’s closure as a heavy blow to media freedom in Hong Kong. The island is a self-governing democracy that split from mainland China in 1949 but that Beijing continues to claim as its territory.
“This shows the international community that the Chinese Communist Party, in its exercise of totalitarian political power, will stop at nothing to use extreme means to wipe out dissenting opinions,” Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said in an emailed statement.
“Humankind’s quest for freedom, democracy and other universal values will not be lost to history, but history will remember the ugly face of the power behind the suppression of freedom.”
Beijing has dismissed such criticism as interference in its internal affairs, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Thursday lashed out at foreign officials who have criticized the actions against Apple Daily.
“Press freedom is not an excuse of impunity and whoever disrupts Hong Kong has no extrajudicial privileges,” Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing.
On Wednesday night, over 100 people stood outside Apple Daily’s office building in the rain to show their support.
In the early hours of Thursday, residents in the city’s Mong Kok neighborhood began lining up hours before the paper hit the stands.
Apple Daily’s Hong Kong website contained only a notice on Thursday that read: “We are sad to inform you that Apple Daily and Next Magazine’s web and app content will no longer be accessible at 23:59, 23 June 2021, HKT.”
“We would like to thank all of our readers, subscribers, advertisers, and Hongkonger[s] for your loyal support,” the notice read.
A similar message was posted on its news app.
Last week’s arrests of the Apple Daily employees represented the first time the national security law had been used against journalists for something they published.
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
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