Hong Kong, China:
Hong Kong’s most vocal pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, printed its last edition on Thursday immediately after a stormy year in which its tycoon owner and other employees have been arrested beneath a new national safety law, and its assets have been frozen.
The closure of the preferred tabloid, which mixes pro-democracy views with celebrity gossip and investigations of these in energy, marks the finish of an era for media freedom in the Chinese-ruled city, critics say.
“Thank you to all readers, subscribers, ad clients and Hong Kongers for 26 years of immense love and support. Here we say goodbye, take care of yourselves,” the paper mentioned in an on the net post.
Hundreds of supporters gathered outdoors Apple Daily’s developing on Wednesday evening to show help, in some cases in heavy rain, and waved smartphone lights. Journalists came out onto the balcony and responded with their personal phones.
The last front web page carried a photograph of a member of employees waving at supporters, with the headline “Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain”.
A Reuters reporter present in the Apple Daily newsroom saw dozens of journalists break into applause when the final edition was sent to press, and some in tears.
Reporter Alvin Chan went outdoors to distribute cost-free copies to the supporters, saying: “I hope everyone can … continue to believe in our values.”
The paper, whose on the net version will also quit updating, mentioned it was printing a million copies of its last edition – more than 10 occasions its typical print run.
Shortly immediately after midnight, some news stands waiting for delivery currently had hundreds of people today queueing.
Apple Daily’s help for democratic rights and freedoms has made it a thorn in Beijing’s side due to the fact owner Jimmy Lai, a self-made tycoon who was smuggled from mainland China into Hong Kong on a fishing boat at the age of 12, began it in 1995.
It shook up the region’s Chinese-language media landscape and became a champion of democracy on the margins of Communist China. Its demise leaves only a handful of tiny on the net outlets on that side of politics, which includes Stand News and Citizen News.
Staff unions at Citizen News and six other media groups mentioned they would put on black on Thursday in protest at what they described as “the government’s blow against freedom of the press”. Management at Citizen News and Stand News could not be reached for comment.
CHALLENGE TO BEIJING
Apple Daily’s supporters championed it as a beacon of media freedom in the Chinese-speaking world. It repeatedly challenged Beijing’s authoritarianism and was study by dissidents and a more liberal Chinese diaspora.
Lai, whose assets have been frozen, has been in jail due to the fact December on charges, stemming from pro-democracy protests, of taking element in unauthorised assemblies.
Some rights groups, media organisations and Western governments have criticised the action against the newspaper.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam mentioned on Tuesday that criticism of the raid on the newspaper amounted to attempts to “beautify” acts that endangered national safety. Chinese officials have denounced the criticism as interference.
Hong Kong and mainland officials have repeatedly mentioned that media freedoms are respected but are not absolute.
Apple Daily, which was published by Next Digital and employed hundreds of journalists, mentioned in its on the net post that the selection to close was “based on employee safety and manpower considerations”.
Since becoming raided by police, the newspaper says it has suffered mass resignations and complete departments have had to close.
Last week, the assets of businesses linked to the newspaper have been frozen and 5 executives have been arrested. On Wednesday, police arrested a columnist on suspicion of conspiring to collude with foreign forces.
Apple Daily and Next Digital management could not be reached to comment additional.
In an interview with Reuters, an adviser to Lai mentioned on Monday that the paper would close “in a matter of days”.
The paper’s newsroom was raided by about 200 police last August, when Lai was arrested on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces, and once again last week, by 500 police, when the other executives have been detained.
Improved PRINT RUN
On each occasions, the paper mentioned it had improved its print run to 500,000 the following day from the usual 80,000, and residents of the city of 7.5 million snapped it up ahead of dawn.
The police action was the most direct attack on Hong Kong’s freewheeling media due to the fact Beijing regained manage of the city in 1997.
Authorities in Hong Kong have mentioned the moves against Apple Daily have been not targeting the media market or press freedom.
The safety law imposed on the city last year was Beijing’s 1st significant move to place Hong Kong on a more authoritarian path.
Lam and other pro-Beijing officials have mentioned it has restored stability immediately after months of frequently-violent pro-democracy protests.
The Taiwan arm of Apple Daily mentioned it would continue to publish on the net, as its finances are independent.
Apple Daily has come beneath escalating stress due to the fact Lai was arrested last year beneath the safety legislation.
Authorities have mentioned dozens of Apple Daily articles could have violated the safety law, the 1st instance of authorities taking aim at media reports beneath the legislation.
Next Digital has been kept afloat by loans from Lai. In May, Reuters reported exclusively that Hong Kong’s safety chief had sent letters to branches of HSBC and Citibank threatening up to seven years’ jail for any dealings with the billionaire’s accounts in the city.