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Hong Kong democracy paper defiant as executives charged under security law
Employees compile different sections of freshly printed papers in the printing facility of the Apple Daily newspaper offices in Hong Kong early on June 18, 2021, after police arrested the chief editor and four executives of the pro-democracy newspaper the previous morning, raiding its newsroom for a second time in the latest blow to the outspoken tabloid.
Anthony Wallace / AFP

Hong Kong democracy paper defiant as executives charged under security law

Jerome Taylor, Yan Zhao (Agence France-Presse) - June 18, 2021 - 4:43pm

HONG KONG, China -- Hong Kong's pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper hit the stands Friday a day after police raided its newsroom, with an extra-large print run and a characteristic message of defiance emblazoned on its front that read: "We must press on." 

The bold stance came as police formally charged two of the newspaper's executives under a sweeping new security law that cracks down on dissent in the international business and media hub.

The tabloid and its jailed owner Jimmy Lai have long been a thorn in Beijing's side with unapologetic support for the city's pro-democracy movement and scathing criticism of China's authoritarian leaders.

Those same leaders are now determined to see it silenced.

More than 500 police officers raided the paper's newsroom on Thursday in an operation that authorities said was sparked by articles that allegedly appealed for sanctions against China.

It was the first time the political views and opinions published in Hong Kong media outlets triggered the broadly-worded national security law.

Five executives, including chief editor Ryan Law and CEO Cheung Kim-hung, were detained on charges of colluding with foreign forces to undermine China's national security.

Both Law and Cheung were charged on Friday.

Most of those charged under the law are denied bail and will spend months behind bars before going to trial.

'All sold out' 

Staff returned to a newsroom gutted of many computers and hard drives that had been carted away in police evidence bags.

But they pushed on throughout the night to get the next day's edition out, as they have for the last 26 years.

This time, they were surrounded by a gaggle of reporters from rival outlets documenting the seemingly inexorable decline of media freedoms in their city, an international media hub.

Editors settled on a simple front page featuring pictures of the five arrested executives with a headline that detailed the raid.

But below the fold, in a bold yellow font, they printed "We must press on", words the paper said Cheung told staff as he was led away by police in handcuffs.

The company opted for a print run of 500,000 copies -- far beyond its current daily circulation of around 80,000 -- hoping Hong Kongers might snap up the historic edition.

In the working-class district of Mongkok, dozens of residents queued in the early morning hours for the first edition.

"Usually we sell around 60 copies but tonight, we just sold 1,800," the owner of one newsstand, who did not give his name, told AFP. "Now it is all sold out."

A 40-year-old product developer, who gave only her first name Polly, said she bought ten copies.

"For many years we enjoyed the freedom of press and we were able to say anything," she told AFP. 

"But just within one year it's all different, it has deteriorated so much and everything is happening so quickly," she added.

Another customer, 45-year-old Steven Chow, snapped up three copies.

"There is no perfect media, but it (Apple Daily) is a unique voice in Hong Kong," he said. 

"You may not like it, but I think you need to let them have their voice and survive, it is important."

Future unclear 

It is not clear how long Apple Daily can survive.

Its wealthy owner Lai, 73, is currently serving multiple sentences for his involvement in democracy rallies in 2019.

He has also been charged under the national security law and has had his Hong Kong assets frozen by authorities. 

Authorities froze a further HK$18 million (US$2.3 million) in Apple Daily's company assets on Thursday. 

Before the latest freeze, Apple Daily said it had enough cash to keep going for the rest of the year.

Mark Simon, an aide to Lai who lives overseas, said the paper would have difficulty paying its staff of about 700.

"We're having an incredibly tough time," he told the New York Times.

"I don't know what's going to happen. I think they're going to keep coming and coming."

CHINA DEMOCRACY HONG KONG PRESS FREEDOM
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: July 27, 2021 - 6:06pm

Millions march in Hong Kong in a powerful rebuke of an extradition law feared to expose them to China's capricious justice system.

July 27, 2021 - 6:06pm

A Hong Kong court convicts a man of terrorism and inciting secession on Tuesday in the first trial under a national security law imposed by China to stamp out dissent.

Tong Ying-kit, a 24-year-old former waiter, was found guilty of both charges by a panel of three judges who ruled that a flag he flew sporting a popular protest slogan was "capable of inciting others to commit secession" and therefore illegal. — AFP

July 21, 2021 - 12:55pm

A police source says a former senior editor of Hong Kong's shuttered pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was arrested by national security police on Wednesday morning.

The source tells AFP that former executive editor-in-chief Lam Man-chung had been detained. 

In a statement, police say they had arrested a 51-year-old former newspaper editor for "collusion with foreign forces", a national security crime. 

July 15, 2021 - 2:56pm

Hong Kong's press freedoms are "in tatters" as China remoulds the once outspoken business hub in its own authoritarian image, the city's main journalist union said Thursday, adding it feared "fake news" laws were on their way.

"The past year is definitely the worst year so far for press freedom," Ronson Chan, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), said as the union published its annual report.

The report referenced a cascade of events impacting the press since China imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong last summer to stamp out dissent after huge and often violent democracy protests the year before. — AFP

June 30, 2021 - 12:33pm

Hong Kong's national security law has decimated freedoms and created a "human rights emergency", Amnesty International says, a year after Beijing imposed the legislation on the city.

The sweeping national security law -- which criminalises anything authorities deem subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism with up to life in prison -- has radically transformed Hong Kong's political and legal landscape.

"In one year, the National Security Law has put Hong Kong on a rapid path to becoming a police state and created a human rights emergency for the people living there," Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra says. — AFP

June 23, 2021 - 5:40pm

Hong Kong's pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper confirms Wednesday that the following day's newspaper will be its final edition after police froze its assets using a new national security law. 

"Apple Daily decided that the paper will cease operations from midnight and tomorrow (24th) will be the last publication day," the paper writes on its website. "Apple Daily's website will stop updates from midnight."

That announcement comes minutes after the paper's board said it would cease operations "no later than Saturday". —  AFP

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