Hong Kong: RSF appalled by the prolonged detention of Apple Daily staff three years after media shutdown

Since the forced closure of Hong Kong’s largest Chinese-language independent newspaper Apple Daily three years ago, seven of its staff members, including the founder Jimmy Lai, are still detained and awaiting verdicts on spurious national security charges. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls again for their immediate release, and for the end of their prolonged detention without a fair trial. 

Three years ago, on 24 June 2021, Apple Daily - Hong Kong’s largest Chinese-language independent newspaper - was forced to shut down after nearly 500 police officers raided its premises and the government froze its parent company’s assets. At the end of that day, the final edition of the newspaper reached a record circulation of one million copies – 10 times what would normally sell in a day. To date, seven of the media’s staff members, including its founder Jimmy Lai, are still detained and facing life imprisonment under the National Security Law. To justify the prosecution, the government compiled more than 150 articles, op-eds, and videos published by Apple Daily and allegedly “criminal” under this draconian law.

“Three years on, the closure of Apple Daily and targeting of its publisher and senior staff has left a huge void in Hong Kong’s media landscape, marking a turning point in the deterioration of the right to information in the territory and in turn impacting global press freedom. The Hong Kong authorities must cease this crackdown without further delay and take immediate steps to reverse this alarming downward spiral, starting with the long-awaited releases of Jimmy Lai and all jailed Apple Daily staff.

Rebecca Vincent
RSF’s Director of Campaigns

The sentencing of the six Apple Daily executives has been delayed for more than two years under the pretext that it cannot take place until Jimmy Lai’s case is resolved in court. The news outlet’s CEO Cheung Kim-hung, chief editor Ryan Law Wai-kwong, executive editor-in-chief Lam Man-chung, associate publisher Chan Pui-Man, managing editor of the English edition Fung Wai-kong, and lead editorial writer Yeung Ching-kee have been subjected to prolonged detention and held on remand despite multiple requests for release on bail. There has been no indication as to when the court will hand down a decision in their cases. 

In the meantime, Jimmy Lai’s national security trial, which is now only at its middle  stages, has already been ongoing for more than 90 days despite preliminary plans for it to last for 80 days. Lai was also denied the right to be represented by a lawyer of his choice, and he was not allowed to be tried in the presence of a jury. In early June, the prosecution completed its presentation of evidence, and the case was adjourned until 24 July for mid-stage statements. 

During the trial, the prosecution has resorted to testimony from a “witness” who was reportedly tortured and is believed to be forcibly held in a psychiatric institution. Prosecutors named several human rights defenders with whom Lai had been in touch in past years as “co-conspirators” in colluding with foreign forces. 

Independent media closed due to the pressure

Apple Daily is not the only media outlet that closed  due to pressure by the Hong Kong authorities. In December 2021, the National Security Law was also used as a pretext to shut down the Chinese-language news site Stand News, while the climate of fear confronting Hong Kong journalists led at least five smaller local media outlets to cease operations. Most recently in 2024, Radio Free Asia and World Street Journal announced that they would close their bureaus in the city, with the first one citing the safety of its staff. 

Over the past three years, at least 900 journalists have lost their jobs due to the closure of the independent media outlets, hundreds of media professionals had no other choice but to go into exile, while some foreign journalists and an RSF representative were barred from entering the territory. 

Hong Kong is ranked 135th in RSF’s 2024 World Press Freedom Index, having plummeted down the rankings from 18th place in just two decades. China itself ranks 172nd of the 180 countries and territories surveyed.

135/ 180
Score : 43.06
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