Hong Kong — The people who run Hong Kong's last pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, will know by the end of this week if it will be forced to cease operations after 26 years. Last week theby about 200 Hong Kong police officers, who left with five executives and boxes full of equipment.
Starved of cash because of a government freeze on its $2.3 million in assets, Apple Daily reported on its own potential demise late on Monday after the board of directors for its parent company, Next Digital, met to strategize about the future.
The paper said its board had sent a letter to Hong Kong's Security Bureau requesting its assets be unfrozen in order to pay the salaries of its nearly 1,300 staffers by the end of this month. If denied, Apple Daily said it could stop updating its website as soon as Saturday morning.
Founded on June 20, 1995, by the now-jailed billionaire media tycoon, Apple Daily marked its 26th anniversary only last Sunday. Over the decades, both the paper and its proprietor became relentless critics of China's ruling Communist party and the pro-Beijing authorities in Hong Kong.
With its hard liberal lean, sensational headlines and paparazzi-style pictures, Apple Daily grew into a hugely popular tabloid. It stridently espoused the now-suppressed pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, and regularly condemned the semi-autonomous Chinese region's political establishment.
If the Apple Daily goes bust, it would be a cause for despair for many of Hong Kong's 7.5 million citizens — many of whom participated in the mass anti-government protests of 2019.
But it would be a cause for celebration for top government officials in the city and in Beijing — capping a crusade begun last year to target the liberal paper using the new, much-promulgated by Beijing last summer.
In August 2020, Hong Kong police arrested Jimmy Lai under the new legislation. He's been charged with fraud and colluding with foreign forces, "to impose sanctions or blockade or engage in other hostile activities against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region or the People's Republic of China," according to court documents.
Lai, 72, has also been charged with other offenses, including taking part in an unauthorized assembly during the 2019 pro-democracy protests that rocked the city.
He could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Last week, Hong Kong police also arrested Apple Daily's editor-in-chief Ryan Law and four top executives. They all stand accused of similar crimes, many linked to the publication of more than 30 articles calling for international sanctions against China.
At their court hearing on Saturday, the chief magistrate denied Law and CEO Cheung Kim-hung bail, arguing that the court had little reason to "believe that the defendants will not continue to commit acts endangering national security."
On Monday, Lai's long-time advisor Mark Simon told the Reuters news agency in a telephone interview from the U.S. that the newspaper's bosses had hoped to keep the presses running at least until the end of the month.
But he said that with Apple Daily's bank accounts frozen by Beijing, "it's just getting harder and harder. It's essentially a matter of days."