Hong Kong’s Apple Daily might shut down in ‘days’ after monetary assets frozen by govt

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily could be forced to shut down in a “matter of days”, Mark Simon, a close adviser to the paper’s co-founder Jimmy Lai, told the BBC.

Bank accounts & assets frozen

Simon said there is “nothing” the paper could do as none of its bank accounts are functioning.

He explained that without money, they could not order services. He also said without access to the cash needed to cover expenses, they could not promise to pay people, adding that this is illegal is Hong Kong.

“The paper is still on the newsstands today but it is only a matter of days before it won’t be there unless its bank accounts are unfrozen,” he said.

They had originally thought he could “make it to the end of the month”, he added.

A day before on Sunday, June 20, Apple Daily revealed that following the freezing of its assets worth HK$18 million (S$3.1 million) which were held by three companies related to Apple Daily, the paper is left with cash for just “a few weeks” for normal operations, Reuters reported.

Simon said the process to seek an unfreezing of the assets would take weeks.

Next Digital, Apple Daily’s publisher will be holding a series of meetings on Monday (June 21) to discuss its plans moving forward, Simon told The Guardian.

Charges of collusion with foreign forces

Apple Daily is a well-read 26-year-old newspaper that’s often critical of the Hong Kong authorities and the central government in Beijing.

The latest development comes after 500 police officers raided its newsroom in Tseung Kwan O, citing the Beijing-imposed national security law for the first time in the city.

Computers, hard disks and other journalistic materials were seized from the office.

Following the raid, five of the paper’s top executives, including its editor-in-chief Ryan Law, were arrested on Thursday morning, June 17.

If convicted under the national security law, they face life imprisonment.

The police had cited the publication for more than 30 unspecified reports that they claimed were responsible for the imposition of foreign sanctions against Hong Kong, as evidence of foreign collusion.

The reports were mostly commentaries and op-eds, including many written by the paper’s founder Jimmy Lai, according to the South China Morning Post.

They date back to 2019, before the non-retroactive law came into effect in June last year.

Residents show their support

In an outpour of support for the paper they see as being suppressed by the authorities, pro-democracy Hongkongers flocked to snap up the paper on Friday, June 18.

Despite expanding its print run to 500,000 from 80,000, all copies were sold out.

Despite the latest news that the paper might cease to exist within days, some residents have continued to show their support.

A man surnamed Zhang told Apple Daily as long as the paper stands, he will buy a copy.

In the face of challenges posed to its operations, Apple Daily has remained defiant, saying in an editorial published on June 21 that it would “uphold [the] freedom of press with no regrets”.

It further claimed that the raid and arrests have had a huge impact on the paper’s daily operations as reporters, under “psychological distress”, became much more concerned about stepping on the government’s red line as they carry out their work.

Simon told Reuters that some of their staff worry for their personal safety, as reporters have received threatening phone calls from unknown sources.

The editorial also said with the police obtaining previously confidential information, reporters and news organisations can no longer effectively protect sensitive information, and identities of “whistleblowers” could be easily revealed.

Top image adapted via Apple daily & Central News Agency (Taiwan)