Hong Kong’s most outspoken pro-democracy newspaper is closing

The Apple Daily is dying.
The Apple Daily is dying.
Image: Reuters/Tyrone Siu
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Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s embattled pro-democracy tabloid that has been one of Beijing’s most vocal critics, is bidding an earlier-than-expected farewell to the city.

The newspaper announced today (June 23) (link in Chinese) that its last print edition will come out tomorrow, while its online version will stop updating after midnight today. The closure comes three days earlier than the company had planned, with the decision based on concerns about the safety of its staff.

“Apple Daily gives thanks for the love and support from its readers, subscribers, advertisers, and Hongkongers in the past 26 years. Let’s bid farewell now, and take care,” said the announcement. “We have fought the good fight,” the paper wrote in a post on its Instagram account.

The threat to free press in Hong Kong

The early closure is the latest reminder that Hong Kong’s status as a free press hub is quickly fading, with Beijing rapidly and forcefully tightening its grip on the city. China’s most powerful weapon is the year-old national security law that can essentially criminalize anyone the government doesn’t like.

Despite being criticized by some for its sensationalism and sometimes populist views, Apple Daily is one of the city’s last prominent opposition voices in the media. The paper has reported on the wrongdoing of Hong Kong and Chinese officials, as well as openly calling for people to join pro-democracy marches.

The announcement came only hours after the Hong Kong police arrested the paper’s lead opinion writer, a 55-year-old man who uses the pen name Li Ping, on suspicion of “conspiring to collude with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security”. The writer has published numerous strongly worded editorials condemning authorities’ crackdown on media and civil society, accusing the government of crushing dissent.

The financial pressure on Apple Daily

The paper’s closure is no surprise, after managers said on Monday (June 21) that they would meet later this week to decide on its final fate. The company has had difficulty paying employees and sustaining its operation, because assets of around HK$18 million ($2.3 million) have been frozen by the government under the security law.

Last week, the paper was raided by hundreds of Hong Kong police officers, who also arrested five executives, including the paper’s editor-in-chief Ryan Law, as well as two executives of Next Digital, the paper’s parent company. Hong Kong’s secretary for security told reporters the paper was raided over coverage that called for foreign countries to impose sanctions on China, and said that this amounted to conspiracy to collude with foreign forces, a crime under the security law.

Jimmy Lai, the founder and owner of Apple Daily, has been in and out of court on a series of charges related to unlawful assembly and fraud. In May, he was sentenced to 14 months in prison on the assembly charge; Lai also faces a national security trial for collusion.