Apple Daily, the Hong Kong newspaper at the forefront of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, is on the verge of shutting down. This admission comes from a key advisor to jailed entrepreneur and founder/owner of Apple Daily, Jimmy Lai.
According to an interview with Reuters, the advisor Mark Simon said that Apple Daily publisher Next Digital will be holding a board meeting today to discuss how to move forward. It may be recalled that last week, the Hong Kong police froze around $2.3 million worth of assets owned by three companies linked to the paper. As a result, Apple Daily is reportedly unable to pay its staff.
"We thought we'd be able to make it to the end of the month... It's just getting harder and harder. It's essentially a matter of days," Simon told Reuters.
What is Apple Daily?
Founded in 1995, Apple Daily is a tabloid-style newspaper that is available in print in Cantonese, and digitally in Cantonese and English (since 2020). Its parent company, Next Media (later known as Next Digital), was founded five years prior by a garment businessman known for the Giordano brand, Jimmy Lai.
The rationale for the 'apple' name, according to China's United Daily News, was that "if Eve hadn't bitten the forbidden fruit, there would be no sin, no right and wrong, and of course there would be no news." According to the book The Challenge of Hong Kong’s Reintegration with China, the tabloid would make reporting on crime, celebrity news, eroticism, gambling and drug use its priority.
Politically, Apple Daily takes a pro-democracy and anti-China position and founder Jimmy has repeatedly found himself on the receiving end of Chinese ire. By most accounts, it was the crackdown on students in Tiananmen Square in 1989 that inspired him to swap the garment business for the media.
What is the Hong Kong National Security Law?
Enacted in June last year by the Carrie Lam government in Hong Kong, the law criminalises any acts of secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign/external forces. More worryingly for the people of Hong Kong, the definitions of these terms are loose and fairly open to interpretation.
According to the BBC, this law has given "Beijing powers to shape life in Hong Kong it has never had before. Critics say it effectively curtails protest and freedom of speech — China has said it will return stability."
Apple Daily's recent scrapes with the Hong Kong government
On 10 August last year, barely a month-and-a-half since the law came into force, Next Digital offices were raided. Ten people, including Lai and his sons, were arrested by the Hong Kong police for purportedly violating the HK National Security Law.
Coupled with ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, the arrests brought widespread international outcry. After being detained for a day-and-a-half, Jimmy was released and proceeded to tour the Apple Daily newsroom, exhorting his staffers to 'fight on'. They, in turn, cheered him and for a while, it seemed like things would settle down.
In February this year, Lai was arrested once again. The charges this time: Assisting one of 12 fugitives China captured at sea in 2020. As a result, he was charged with colluding with foreign forces under the draconian HK National Security Law.
The Thursday crackdown and why Apple Daily's days seem numbered
On 17 June, a reported 500 police officers raided the Apple Daily offices in Hong Kong, once again claiming a violation of the national security law. Aside from freezing assets worth $2.3 million (~ HK$18 million), the police also arrested Apple Daily editor-in-chief Ryan Law, Next Digital CEO Cheung Kim-hung and three others from their homes.
Lai's advisor Simon, who is wanted by the Hong Kong police under the same law, is presently in the US and told Reuters from there that there was barely enough cash left with the paper for a few weeks of operations. He told the agency, "Vendors tried to put money into our accounts and were rejected. We can't bank."
Apple Daily's situation is being closely monitored the world over as the freedom of the press faces numerous challenges globally.
With inputs from agencies