Hong Kong pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily could close this week – memo

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Copies of the Apple Daily newspaper are seen in his printing press after police raided his newsroom and arrested five executives in Hong Kong, China in early June 2021. REUTERS / Jessie Pang

HONG KONG, June 21 (Reuters) – Next Digital (0282.HK) pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily will cease publication on June 26 if its board decides in a meeting on Friday that it cannot continue to work, the newspaper said in an internal memo seen by Reuters.

Police raided the newspaper last week as part of a national security investigation, in which senior Apple Daily executives were arrested for “alleged collusion with a foreign country” and the assets of three companies linked to the newspaper were frozen.

On Monday, an adviser to jailed Next Digital owner and staunch Beijing critic Jimmy Lai told Reuters the newspaper would be forced to shut down “in a few days.” Read more

“The board of directors will decide on Friday whether (the company) will continue to operate,” Apple Daily said in its memo to staff, which was not made public.

“If the board decides not to continue operating on Friday, the online download will cease at 11:59 p.m. on the same day, the newspaper will cease operations after the publication of the June 26 edition.”

The company would “accept” any immediate resignation, he said.

Apple Daily and Next Digital management could not be reached for comment.

Police said dozens of Apple Daily articles were suspected of violating a new national security law in the first instance in which authorities cited media reports as potentially violating the disputed legislation.

Editor-in-chief Ryan Law and chief executive Cheung Kim-hung were charged with collusion with a foreign country and were denied bail on Saturday. Three other senior officials were also arrested Thursday and released pending further investigation.

Three companies linked to Apple Daily are being sued for collusion with a foreign country and authorities have frozen 18 million Hong Kong dollars ($ 2.3 million) of their assets.

The company said in the note that the board of directors had sent a letter to the Hong Kong Security Bureau to request that certain assets be unfrozen in order to avoid violating labor laws by not paying staff. The company has asked the Security Bureau to respond by Friday.

‘SERIOUS CRIME’

The bureau said in a statement to Reuters on Monday that it would not comment on the details of the case due to pending legal proceedings and that any claims relating to the frozen property would be dealt with “in accordance with the law.”

“Endangering national security is a very serious crime,” he said.

The newspaper said in a Sunday article that it plans to challenge the decision to freeze the assets in court, if the Security Bureau rejects the request.

The city’s general manager’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. Beijing’s chief representative in the city, the liaison office, also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Apple Daily arrests and scale of raid have been criticized by Western countries, global rights groups, news organizations and the UN chief human rights spokesperson .

Security Secretary John Lee told a press conference Thursday that the police operation against the Apple Daily targeted those who use the reporting as a tool to endanger national security and did not target the media industry as a whole.

China’s foreign commissioner’s office said in a statement Thursday that the national security law protects press freedom and warned outside forces “not to touch Hong Kong.” The office said freedom of the press cannot be used as a “shield” for those who commit crimes.

Next Digital has come under increasing pressure since Lai was arrested last year under the law. Lai, whose assets have also been frozen under the security law, is in prison for participating in unauthorized rallies.

Apple Daily is a popular tabloid founded 26 years ago that mixes pro-democracy rhetoric, celebrity gossip and surveys of those in power.

Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Toby Chopra

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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