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The aggressive Hong Kong tabloid that refuses to bow to Beijing | Free Press

China Hong Kong -In the last issue of “Apple Daily”, the Hong Kong tabloid, which appeared as a champion of democracy and an outspoken critic of China, ceased publication four days after the newspaper celebrated its 26th anniversary.

The newspaper was raided twice by the police in the past 10 months for allegedly violating the National Security Law enforced by Beijing nearly a year ago. Since the first raid in August last year, the 73-year-old founder Jimmy Lai has been in prison awaiting trial according to law.

In the raid last week, 500 police officers raided Apple’s headquarters. Five executives, including its editor-in-chief, were arrested on suspicion of security crimes. Another employee, the chief editorial writer, was arrested on Wednesday morning.

However, the last nail in the coffin was that the Hong Kong authorities had frozen the bank account of the media group that owned the newspaper. The move prevented the newspaper from paying its employees and suppliers, even if readers snapped up copies to show their support.

When the Apple Daily announced the closure on Wednesday, the decision was based on “employee safety and manpower considerations.”
“We are here to say goodbye. Take care of yourself.”

Staff from Apple Daily and its publisher Next Digital applaud the final edition of a newspaper that began to be published in 1995 and became a thorn in Beijing’s eyes. [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the framework of “one country, two systems”, which aims to protect the rights and freedoms that the mainland does not have. For most of the past 20 years, in a country where the media has been imprisoned, the territory has been a bastion of press freedom.

“The demise of Apple Daily negated’one country, two systems’ and laid the foundation for’one country, one system,” said Willy Lam, a long-time Chinese political commentator and senior newspaper editor.

Bold

Established two years before the handover, Apple Daily is both a gamble and a leap of faith.

“The newspaper not only hopes to have some impact on Hong Kong, but also hopes to support China’s liberalization,” Lin told Al Jazeera. “But as China has become less open to Western values, the newspaper will focus on defending Hong Kong’s values ​​and letting Beijing take responsibility.”

“Apple Daily” stated in its inaugural editorial that its goal is to become a newspaper for Hong Kong people.

Its founder and patron, Lai, is a devout Catholic who made a fortune in the fashion industry. He named the newspaper after the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden in the Old Testament. Its rhyming couplet ad slogan-“An apple a day, scammers can’t control”-attracted the attention of Hong Kong readers who are used to calm products.

Very loud sound. It is bold, it is flashy.

The newspaper published a secret photo of Deng Xiaoping (China’s top leader at the time died in February this year at the age of 92) on the front page, which attracted people’s attention.

Recklessness is its selling point.

Its reporters often assassinate public officials and stab people in comfort.

Lokman Tsui, assistant professor of journalism at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said: “It told the truth about power and found a profitable way.”

In 2009, Lai Zhimei stood by one of the printing presses and created a popular pro-democracy newspaper, not afraid to speak the truth to power and criticize the Communist Party in Beijing. [File: Alex Hofford/EPA]
Li Zhiying, the founder and funder of Apple Daily, was arrested under the National Security Act in August and the newspaper’s headquarters was raided.He has now been sentenced to prison [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

The paper caters to high eyebrows and low eyebrows. The colorfully-dressed female models appear in the same section of the thesis as an erudite column, which includes quotes in Latin and Classical Chinese. With a few exceptions, its columnists are all who are from the pro-democracy circles in the region.

Give people what they want

Launched in the dawn of the Internet age, daily newspapers quickly adapted to the digital world. Its website created a precedent for animated news-a mix of stills, short films, and clever graphics, accompanied by a sour satirical narrative. Its lifestyle channel on YouTube has attracted a large number of followers.

Ten years later, the newspaper’s circulation reached a peak of 500,000 copies in a city with a population of approximately 6 million, with more than a dozen daily newspapers.

Apple Daily’s promotional news brand will soon make this newspaper a thorn in the eye of the Chinese Communist Party. But for Lai, a self-made maverick millionaire, now called “Public Enemy First” by Beijing, all this is to give his customers what they would buy, even including protest poster insertion.

In the summer of 2019, when the people opposed legislation that would send Hong Kong residents back to mainland China for trial, the newspaper simplified “Extradition to China” to “Send people to the grave” in Cantonese homophonic colloquialism. This expression immediately became popular and became a rally slogan in the protest movement.

“Sometimes, we may overdo it, but everything we do is within the scope of the law,” said Robert Chan, 45, who has covered mainland China for the paper in the past three years.

Until the security law is passed, the authorities believe that subversion, sedition, collusion with foreign forces, and secession of the country may be sentenced to life imprisonment.

In recent years, the prosecution has always used frequent meetings with U.S. officials below the then Vice President as “evidence” of his alleged “collusion with foreign powers.”

The staff of Apple Daily and its publisher Next Digital completed the final version of their newspaper on June 23. The newspaper stated in its first editorial that it hopes to become a publication for Hong Kong people.It printed 1 million final copies [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

At the beginning of last month, rumors began to circulate, and Beijing hopes to see the newspaper close in time for the centennial celebration of the Communist Party on July 1.

Alex Tang, 37, who has worked as a technology journalist for ten years, said that like most of his colleagues, he has become accustomed to being skeptical of unproven gossip—until the second raid and the company’s asset freeze.

In the past few days, some of the newspaper’s 800 reporters were frustrated by the lack of clear answers to the final publication date and severance pay.

“The management says they will stick to the end, and they keep their promise,” Tang said. “The company has done its best.”

Apple Daily will continue to exist as a website on the Taiwanese Autonomous Island, which ceased its paper publication last month.

But in Hong Kong, Chinese journalist Chen said that he will mourn more than just the loss of livelihood.

“As the newspaper disappears, the values ​​it represents will also disappear: the pursuit of freedom and democracy,” he said.



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