Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s most popular pro-democracy newspaper, will cease operations as soon as Thursday, after police arrested its executives and froze the company’s assets using a Beijing-imposed national security law.
The newspaper said its Thursday edition would be its last and would stop updating its website after Wednesday.
The Wednesday announcement came after the paper’s parent company, Next Digital, said Apple Daily’s print and digital editions would shut down no later than Sunday owing to “the current circumstances prevailing in Hong Kong.”
“The company thanks our readers for their loyal support and our journalists, staff and advertisers for their commitment over the past 26 years,” the company said in a statement.
Apple Daily said it would shut down on Thursday based on safety and staffing considerations.
The crackdown on Apple Daily by the pro-Beijing local authorities has been seen as a sign of dwindling press freedom in the former British colony, which was promised civil liberties unavailable in mainland China when it was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997.
The paper has been struggling to carry on its operations since police raided its newsroom last week and arrested five executives, including the chief editor. They were accused of violating the national security law imposed by the Chinese government last year to eliminate challenges to Beijing’s authority over the city.
The authorities also froze 18 million Hong Kong dollars ($2.3 million) in the parent company’s assets. Next Digital said it could not pay its staff if the government did not unfreeze part of its assets.
Expecting an imminent shutdown, employees have in recent days started taking leave and bidding goodbye to the newsroom.
Founded in 1995 by businessman Jimmy Lai, a vocal critic of the ruling Communist Party, Apple Daily is the only newspaper to openly back pro-democracy protests in the city.
Lai has been in jail since December after he was charged under the national security law and denied bail. He is currently serving a prison term for taking part in unauthorized assemblies.
The Apple Daily executives have been accused of violating the national security law by publishing articles calling for sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials.
On Wednesday morning, a 55-year-old editorial writer was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces, Apple Daily reported.
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