Outcry as HK’s Apple Daily shuts down
aThe closure of the popular tabloid, which mixes pro-democracy views with racy celebrity gossip and investigations of those in power, marks the end of an era for media freedom in the Chinese-ruled city, critics said.
"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," Apple Daily said in an online article.
Apple Daily's support for democratic rights and freedoms has made it a thorn in Beijing's side since 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, started 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.
While viewed as tawdry at times by some of its critics, the tabloid has served as a beacon of media freedom in the Chinese-speaking world, read by dissidents and a more liberal Chinese diaspora - repeatedly challenging Beijing's authoritarianism.
Lai, whose assets have been frozen, has been in jail since December on charges of taking part in unauthorised assemblies, stemming from pro-democracy protests.
Rights groups, media organisations and Western governments have criticised the action against the newspaper.
"It will put a lot of pressure on all those who write reports or editorials," said Ronson Chan, head of the Hong Kong Journalists' Association. "We just don't know what the red line is."
British foreign secretary Dominic Raab described the "forced closure" of the paper by authorities as "a chilling demonstration of their campaign to silence all opposition voices".
The European Union said the closure "seriously undermines media freedom" as well as Hong Kong's reputation as a business hub, reports AFP.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday criticism of the raid on the newspaper amounted to attempts to "beautify" acts that endangered national security. Chinese officials have denounced the criticism as interference.
Hong Kong and mainland officials have repeatedly said that media freedoms are respected but are not absolute.
One reader said the paper's closure could mean the end of Hong Kong's press freedom. "If such a strong organisation can lose its voice, I think other media organisations will be scared," said Johnny Ku, 55.
Media reported Apple Daily is expected to print one million copies today. The paper said its online version will also stop updating.
The last week's raid was seen as the most direct attack on Hong Kong's freewheeling media since Beijing regained control of the city in 1997.
The national security law imposed on the city last year was Beijing's first major move to put Hong Kong on a more authoritarian path.
Apple Daily, which is published by Next Digital and employs hundreds of journalists, said the decision to close was "based on employee safety and manpower considerations".