Published: Thu, June 24, 2021
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Taiwan condemns 'political oppression' after closure of ‘Apple Daily’

Taiwan condemns 'political oppression' after closure of ‘Apple Daily’

Apple Daily in Taiwan said in a statement that its online news page on the self-ruled, democratic island would not be affected as its finances are separated from Hong Kong.

The outspoken tabloid has always been a thorn in Beijing's side, with unapologetic support for the city's pro-democracy movement and caustic criticism of China's authoritarian leaders.

The silencing of a prominent pro-democracy voice was the latest sign of China's determination to exert greater control over the semi-autonomous region after huge protests in 2019 shook the government.

While pro-democracy media outlets still exist online, it was the only print newspaper of its kind left in the city.

In a post on Instagram, the paper thanked its readers. China has also changed Hong Kong's election laws to keep opposition members out of the legislature.

Apple Daily said it would print 1 million copies of the day's paper - 10 times its typical run.

Those same leaders used a new security law to bring about its rapid demise.

The widely expected move to close Apple Daily followed last week's arrests of the five editors and crucially the freezing of $2.3 million USA of the paper's assets.

The board of directors had earlier this week written to Hong Kong's security bureau requesting the release of some of its funds so that the company could pay wages. Apple's website cited concerns over employee safety and a manpower shortage.

Critics, including many Western nations, say China has broken its "One country, two systems" promise that Hong Kong could maintain key freedoms after its handover from Britain in 1997.

The paper's newsroom was raided by 200 police in August past year when owner and staunch Beijing critic Jimmy Lai was arrested on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces, and again by 500 police last week when five other executives were detained.

"I had a young editor who said to me, they will have to physically remove me from my desk for me to leave", recounts Mark Simon, an executive with Apple Daily's publishing company.

Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, who has always been a critic of the Chinese Communist Party, is already in jail on a string of charges.

The move against Apple Daily drew criticism from the USA, the European Union and Britain.

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

The sudden death of the popular newspaper is the latest blow to Hong Kong's freedoms and deepens unease over whether the global finance centre can remain a media hub as China seeks to stamp out dissent.

"Though we are facing a sweeping clampdown on our publication, the staff of Apple Daily will hold fast to our duties faithfully and press on till the end to see the arrival of dawn", it said.

On Monday, an adviser to Lai told Reuters Apple Daily would be forced to shut "in a matter of days".

The law, imposed a year ago, criminalizes subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion.

The paper's announcement coincided with the start of the city's first trial under the year-old national security law that is being closely watched as a barometer of how strictly the courts will interpret the legislation.

Last August, Jimmy Lai, Apple Daily's billionaire founder, and several of his business associates were arrested under a draconian national security law.

Ronson Chan Long-sing, the newly elected chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, described Apple Daily's closure as "heartbreaking" and condemned the arrest of Yeung, saying that it will set a unsafe precedent if a writer is found guilty for his words. Last week, the government arrested Law, four other executives and editors, then froze the paper's bank accounts.

Tong's trial will set the tone for how Hong Kong handles national security offenses. It was mostly known for covering famous people. But over the past 26 years, it evolved into one of the city's loudest pro-democracy voices - one of few that dared to challenge China.

His trial is not being heard by a jury in a major departure from Hong Kong's common law traditions.

The law carries a maximum penalty of life in prison for serious offenders.

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