HONG KONG - Apple Daily has apologised to its readers, hundreds of whom queued past midnight for one of a million copies of the final publication after, for not meeting their expectations.
In the well-read Hong Kong tabloid's last edition on Thursday (June 24), the paper's front page featured a blown-up photo of an Apple Daily staff member waving his phone in response to supporters gathered outside its publisher Next Digital's building in Tseung Kwan O.
The headline that ran across was "Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain, 'we support Apple Daily'".
In a farewell note, the now-defunct paper's former associate publisher Chan Pui Man said the painful decision was made because of concerns for the safety of its workers and manpower considerations.
Ms Chan, among the five top brass arrested last week by the police in a national security probe, bade farewell to readers and wished for her detained colleagues to be released soon.
"To our readers, in the past week, you've cheered us on and told us to 'hang in there', saying 'Hong Kong cannot do without Apple'. Here, I'd like to apologise for missing your expectations. In the days ahead without Apple, I hope you take care and stay safe," said the note.
Dozens of supporters turned up in the rain outside the paper’s Tseung Kwan O office where they cheered on the staff and beamed mobile phone flashlights in solidarity.
Teary-eyed staff waved back at their fans, later handing out copies of the last edition of the paper, which was launched in 1995.
Early on Thursday morning, hundreds of fans queued at news stands islandwide to buy a copy of the tabloid known for its scathing opinions and slant of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments, as well as political scandals, crime and entertainment coverage.
In the late morning, convenience stores in Central ran out of the paper, while people lined up in the light rain at a news stand to wait for more copies to be delivered.
A local who works in the area and wants to go by the name Chris Leung, 30, said he had subscribed to Apple Daily for a few years and feels the paper's outcome "is a shame and a pity".
"There is some stance that I don't agree with, but there are other areas where they do a really good job. They've uncovered many things that the government or large corporates don't want you to know, like how property developers and the government are benefiting from Hong Kong people."
Mr Leung noted that with Apple Daily gone, there are no longer "multiple voices" but only one, and "everyone needs to compromise based on the government's preference and pressure".
He added that he is unsure if any of the assets of individuals or business entities in Hong Kong "are still safe", "because if it can happen to Apple, it can happen to any of us".
Another local, semi-retired merchant Eddy Wong, 63, who said he had been an avid reader of the paper for two decades, is particularly fond of the opinion pieces.
"Apple Daily dares to speak out. The other papers are maybe a little afraid of the government.
"I'm born and bred here and we've always had freedom of speech and press freedom, but now, as you can see, the government has cut our freedom."
Local media reported that many lined up at a newspaper stand in Mong Kok, which is one of the first places to get newspaper deliveries.
RTHK reported that a man who gave his name only as Mr Mo exclaimed that he was happier than being able to get a new iPhone the moment he got his hands on 12 copies, after waiting for two hours since half-past midnight.
"Not happy, actually just happy I can buy what I want, but it's an unhappy day today."
When asked what he was planning to do with the multiple copies, he told RTHK: "Just give to the people who cannot buy the newspaper - my colleagues or my family members."
Meanwhile, the Science and Technology Park Corporation has started to reclaim the land it leased to Apple Daily in Tseung Kwan O Industrial Estate.
The statutory body on Wednesday night said multiple violations were involved in the operations of the printing company and that it had issued a notice of breach of contract to the company.
It declined to make further comments as the matter has entered legal proceedings.
The shuttering of the paper that had 600 employees came after the authorities froze HK$18 million (S$3.1 million) of assets belonging to the paper and Next Digital, as part of national security investigations linked to collusion with foreign forces and for calling for sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials.
Employees were told on Monday that the newspaper did not have sufficient funds to continue operations.
Last Friday, Apple Daily's last editor-in-chief Ryan Law and past chief executive of Next Digital Cheung Kim Hung were charged with conspiring to collude with foreign forces to endanger national security. They are in remand and now face the prospect of life imprisonment.
The two men were among five former executives of Apple Daily and Next Digital arrested the day before.
Former chief operating officer Chow Tat Kuen, Ms Chan, who is also former deputy chief editor, and former chief executive editor Cheung Chi Wai are out on bail but have not been charged.
The arrests were made the same morning that 500 officers raided Apple Daily's Tseung Kwan O office, prompting criticisms locally and from overseas figures that it was a heavy blow to press freedom.
A sixth person was arrested on Wednesday morning in a national security probe.
The 55-year-old columnist at Apple Daily, whose real name is Yeung Ching Kee but pens under the name Li Ping, was the lead opinion writer.
Local media said the writer was nabbed at the tabloid's office in Tseung Kwan O on suspicion of colluding with foreign powers.
The police said investigations are under way and more people could be arrested.