For a brief blip, there was hope that Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper, would be able to hold out for a bit longer against the Chinese Communist Party. This, despite the fact that the party froze the assets of its jailed owner, Jimmy Lai, under a draconian new “national-security” law.
This month, even after authorities tagged Lai’s 71 percent majority stake in Next Digital, Apple Daily’s publisher, the media company said it had sufficient funding to continue operations for at least 16 months.
Now it has shuttered for good, with Apple Daily management saying that “in view of staff members’ safety,” it has decided to “cease operation immediately after midnight.” Thursday’s edition will be the paper’s last.
The ChiComs’ financial vise-grip worked. Vendors trying to deposit money into the company’s bank accounts have been rejected. And another high-up source told Reuters that the freezing of the company’s assets—sans trial or due process, naturally—has made it virtually impossible to pay wages or electricity bills.
Lai always knew things might turn out this way. When the mainland Communists and their local henchmen first attempted to pass a Hong Kong national-security law back in 2003, Lai told Simon, “If they can close Apple and Next, they will.”
“My boss Jimmy Lai has never had any illusions about the Chinese Communist Party,” Simon tells me. “Over the years, we have had hundreds of conversations about the CCP killing off Apple Daily. He said he would be there to the end. He’s in jail, so he is good for his word.”
Now that the CCP has seemingly “taken care of” its biggest enemy in the territory, Lai, it has moved to target the rest of Apple Daily, including other journalists and executives. And no wonder: Like their boss, and despite the risk of arrest and imprisonment, Apple employees have gone on shining a light into the ugly face of tyranny.
And so: On June 17, 500 police officers raided the newspaper’s offices and arrested the company’s chief executive officer, Cheung Kim-hung; chief operating officer, Royston Chow; chief editor, Ryan Law; associate publisher, Chan Pui-man; and the platform director of Apple Daily Digital, Cheung Chi-wai.
All have been arrested under the national-security law—which prohibits “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security”—and denied bail.
Following the arrests, Secretary for Security John Lee gave a chilling news conference, warning Hong Kongers, “If you stand with these suspects, you will pay a hefty price. You should cut ties with the suspects, or you’ll regret it very much.”
Let that seep in: If you stand for a free press and personal liberties, you will pay the consequences.
Lee added: “The suspects have been arrested on strong evidence that they’re conspiring to endanger national security. It is your choice whether you regard them as part of you . . . [or] go about your journalistic work lawfully and properly.”
That is a threat to foreign journalists, too. If what Apple Daily does amounts to nefarious “collusion,” all Western newspapers and journalists need to be on notice.
But we still have a job to do: While Beijing squelches the truth and imprisons its tellers, we get to stand in for them. “Jimmy made it clear since 2019, we publish until they stop us by force,” Simon told me. “But no martyrs. As Jimmy said, ‘History and our souls tell us that freedom always wins. You have to be around to make that win happen.’”
While Lai and his Apple colleagues sit behind bars, it’s up to those of us in the free West to use our freedoms to speak out for them.