Hong Kong's Apple Daily to end publication on June 24 following arrests of staff

Apple Daily will run its final edition on June 24 while the digital version of the paper will cease updates at 11.59pm on June 23.
Apple Daily will run its final edition on June 24 while the digital version of the paper will cease updates at 11.59pm on June 23. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG - Popular tabloid Apple Daily, founded and owned by tycoon Jimmy Lai, will run its final edition on Thursday (June 24) after serving readers for 26 years.

The digital version of the paper will cease updates at 11.59pm on Wednesday. 

The final development came hours after the board of its publisher, Next Digital, said the last edition would be printed "no later than Saturday", with the digital version no longer accessible by 11.59pm the same day.

The decision follows what the board described as "the current circumstances prevailing in Hong Kong".

Confirmation of the closure of all operations of the paper - which hires 600 employees - triggered an outpouring of tributes on social media, with Twitter users describing it as "an end of an era" and expressing sadness over the tabloid's outcome.

Earlier in the day, police said they arrested a 55-year-old columnist at Apple Daily in a national security probe.

According to the embattled tabloid, the man, whose real name is Yang Qing Qi, is a key person on the China desk and writes under the name of Li Ping.

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. 

According to local media, a reporter was also arrested, in addition to the columnist.

When asked, Professor Keith Richburg of the University of Hong Kong's journalism school said Apple Daily had "played a unique role in Hong Kong's politics and society" in the past 26 years. 

"Apple Daily was controversial, it was brash, it was funny, it was irreverent and it often went way too far, over the top in its sensationalism. 

"But many people in Hong Kong loved it. In its relatively short lifespan, Apple Daily had become a part of the fabric of Hong Kong society," he said.

Prof Richburg added that people went out and bought copies to show their support when the paper was raided and its staff arrested. 

Apple Daily and the pro-democracy movement had become inextricably intertwined, he noted.

That said, the jury is still out on whether the government and police are singling out Apple Daily, or targeting the media more broadly in a bid to stifle critical local coverage.

"We have to wait and see whether other media critical of the government are targeted, and also what evidence the authorities produce in court to prove their case that Apple Daily was involved in more than just routine journalism, which, by the way, includes publishing editorials and opinions on controversial issues," said Prof Richburg.


A man reading a copy of Apple Daily on June 19, 2021. The tabloid and Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement have become inextricably intertwined, noted one professor. PHOTO: AFP

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday responded to criticism of the government's actions against the pro-democracy publication, calling it an attempt to "beautify" acts endangering national security.

She stressed that the accusations by the United States that the national security law is used as a tool to stifle freedom of expression and suppress the media in Hong Kong "are wrong".

"What we are talking about is not exchanging views between foreigners and journalists. It is violating the law as defined in the national security law and based on very clear evidence, which will bring the case to court.

"So don't try to underplay the significance of breaking the national security law and don't try to beautify these acts of endangering national security," she said.

Her comments come as Apple Daily ended some of its offerings on Tuesday, including Next Magazine, English services and finance news.

It also aired its last live news show on Monday night, days ahead of an expected full closure.

The same day, at least half the staff resigned, with the others saying they will stay on until the end.

Employees were told on Monday that the newspaper did not have sufficient funds to continue operations after Hong Kong authorities froze its HK$18 million (S$3.1 million) assets as part of a national security probe.  


Police officers gather at the headquarters of Apple Daily in Hong Kong on June 17, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

Last Friday, Apple Daily's editor-in-chief Ryan Law and 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.

Five executives of Apple Daily and Next Digital were arrested last Thursday, including the two men charged.

The other three – chief operating officer Chow Tat Kuen, deputy chief editor Chan Pui Man and chief executive editor Cheung Chi Wai – are out on bail but not charged.

The arrests were made the same morning when 500 officers raided Apple Daily's Tseung Kwan O office, prompting the city's journalism bodies to decry the move as a heavy blow to press freedom.

The paper's founder Lai, an outspoken critic of Beijing and the Hong Kong government, is currently serving time for joining illegal assemblies in 2019. He is accused of breaching national security and faces trial, as well as the prospect of life imprisonment - the highest penalty under the law.

Timeline

June 20, 1995

Apple Daily debuts in full colour, breaking from tradition and selling two million copies of its first edition. It soon became the second best-selling Chinese-language paper, after Oriental Daily.  It gains many fans with critical reporting of China and scoops on political scandals, celebrity gossips, crime and entertainment news.

November 1998

The tabloid apologises after a public outcry over its report linked to the death of a woman who jumped off a building after pushing her children out the window. It had published a photo of her husband with prostitutes soon after the deaths, but it was later revealed that the paper had paid the man to pose for the photo.

May 2003

Apple Daily is launched in Taiwan, where it sells an average of more than 500,000 copies daily.

July 2003

It publishes an exclusive on former financial secretary Antony Leung, saying he avoided paying tax when buying a Lexus. He resigns soon after. 

July 2013 

Then Secretary for Development Paul Chan, now the Financial Secretary, becomes embroiled in controversy after an Apple Daily report that he or his family had an interest in a plot of land in the New Territories that the government had plans to develop. 

June 2018

It breaks the story about the government knowing for years about previously undisclosed construction problems with the MTR’s scandal-plagued Sha Tin-Central Link, but had never told the public about it.

May 2021

Hong Kong authorities freeze assets of the paper’s founder Jimmy Lai, the first time a listed firm has been targeted by national security laws in the city.

June 2021

Police arrest five executives of Apple Daily. The authorities also freeze HK$18 million of Apple Daily’s assets.

June 20

The paper marks its 26th anniversary. 

June 23

Its management says it will print its last edition on Thursday, June 24.