The world has one newspaper less. The theoretical concept of democracy has suffered a crude battering with Apple Daily, the pro-democracy paper in Hong Kong, announcing its closure.
Freedom of the media has been jolted to its foundations with Thursday’s publication of the last edition, pretty obviously under pressure from mainland China. Britain, which handed over the protectorate to China in 1997, would have baulked at the denouement suffered by the publication.
The tabloid’s offices were raided last week over allegations that several reports had breached a controversial national security law. This was, at best, a subjective reflection.
Aside from the closure, police detained the chief editor and five other executives, and company-linked assets were frozen. In retrospect, the ugly events and the brutal severity that have shaped Hong Kong’s narrative for several years had almost inevitably led to the closure of Apple Daily.
By that token, the unfortunate development was not wholly unexpected. Despite the consistent efforts to suppress democracy, the paper had become a vociferous critic of the Hong Kong and Chinese leadership, helmed respectively by the likes of chief executive Carrie Lam and Xi Jinping further afield. Echoing the people’s sentiment generally, UK’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the closure was a “chilling blow to freedom of expression in Hong Kong”.
The digital version of the 26-year-old paper will no longer be updated after midnight. An announcement by publisher Next Digital has thanked readers for their “loyal support” as well as its journalists, staff and advertisers.
The tabloid has long been a beacon of media freedom in the Chinese-speaking world, and is widely supported by political dissidents in Hong Kong.
Chinese officials have repeatedly said media freedoms in Hong Kong are respected but are not absolute. In the event and if the closure of Apple Daily is any indication, respect for freedom of the media is not part of Beijing’s architecture. Apple Daily upheld its editorial independence and refused to kowtow to dictates from the mainland.
The staff waved at those who had gathered outside to bid farewell to the paper. As night fell, supporters of the publication gathered outside its office, and lit their phone flashlights as a show of solidarity. They were also heard chanting “add oil,” an expression that was used during the mass protests in 2019.
Those inside returned the gesture, waving to those below. The gestures were symbolic, but ineffectual. The founder of Apple Daily, Jimmy Lai, who has long been a critic of the Chinese Communist Party, is already in jail on a string of charges.
A week ago, some 500 police officers raided the publication’s newsroom, saying its reports undermined the government, a criminal offence.
Over the past 26 years, Apple Daily had evolved into one of Hong Kong’s loudest pro-democracy voices ~ one of few that dared to challenge China. That voice has been silenced.