Hong Kong Next Digital media group’s board of directors announced on Wednesday 23rd June, 2021 that Apple Daily will cease all its operations from Sunday, 27th June due to the government’s decision to freeze its financial assets, leaving the media outlet unable to pay their employees and suppliers. On Tuesday, 22nd June, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) submitted an urgent appeal to the United Nations (UN), asking the organisation to “take all necessary measures” to safeguard press freedom in Hong Kong.
“The tearing down of Apple Daily, one of the last major Chinese-language media critical of the Beijing regime, after years of harassment, is sending a chilling message to Hong Kong journalists,” says Cédric Alviani, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia bureau head. “If the international community does not respond with the utmost determination, President Xi Jinping will know that he can erase press freedom in Hong Kong with complete impunity, as he has already done in the rest of China.”
Apple Daily, launched in 1995, was one of the last major Chinese-language media to still dare publish information contradicting the Beijing regime’s propaganda and editorials critical of its authoritarian policies, and for many years it was the target of harassment by government and pro-Beijing camps. On the 17th of June 2021, approximately 500 police officers raided its headquarters and five executive staff members were arrested on suspicion of “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces'', a crime that bears a life sentence under the National Security Law imposed last year by the Chinese regime.
Apple Daily founder and 2020 RSF Press Freedom Awards laureate, Jimmy Lai, detained since December 2020, was recently sentenced to a total of 20 months in prison for taking part in three “unauthorised” pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019 and also faces six other procedures, including two charges for which he risks life imprisonment. On the 28th of May, RSF submitted another urgent appeal asking the UN to “take all measures necessary’ to obtain his immediate release.
Hong Kong, once a bastion of press freedom, has fallen from 18th place in 2002 to 80th place in the 2021 RSF World Press Freedom Index. The People's Republic of China, for its part, has stagnated at 177th out of 180.