Hong Kong’s last pro-democracy print newspaper Apple Daily says it could stop publishing on Saturday, if the government continues to keep its assets frozen after arresting five executives under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

The tabloid said management of Next Digital, the newspaper’s parent company, will decide on Friday whether to continue publishing the 26-year-old newspaper.

Apple Daily
Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Mark Simon, an advisor to Apple Daily’s jailed founder Jimmy Lai, told reporters before the meeting that the newspaper could not pay its staff because its bank accounts had been blocked. HKFP has reached out to Simon, who is based abroad, for comment.

According to the newspaper, board members of Next Digital agreed to issue a letter to the Security Bureau, asking the authorities to unfreeze its assets to avoid breaking the law by owing wages.

If the board decides to halt production, its digital news operations will stop updating at 11.59 pm on Friday, according to an internal memo obtained by HKFP.

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The memo stated that in light of the “grim situation,” employees could resign immediately without formal notice. Those who are on leave or working outside of the office could leave a message first and submit a resignation letter later.

“The management’s wish is for everyone to do their work proudly until the very end, but it is hard to estimate the risks. To leave or not, it is up to people to decide. For those who remain, we still hope to meet Apple’s standards and spare no effort in completing our work,” the statement read.

An Apple Daily reporter, who wished to remain anonymous, told HKFP on Monday that employees took photos with one another as if it was their last day working at the media company when the news about its potential shutdown broke: “There is not much difference in shutting down the newspaper earlier or later… but waiting for Friday’s deadline means employees are facing one more week of worry over the content they publish,” the reporter said, adding they have not decided whether to quit or not.

Office raid

Some 500 police raided the paper last Thursday after arresting the five on suspicion of violating the security law, by publishing more than 30 articles which allegedly called for sanctions on the Beijing and Hong Kong governments.

The force also seized journalistic materials including 38 computers from the newsroom during the five-hour raid, the first such operation related to media content since the security law was imposed on Hong Kong almost a year ago. It provides for penalties of up to life imprisonment.

Next Digital’s CEO Cheung Kim-hung and Apple Daily Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law were brought to court on Saturday to face allegations of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces and remanded in custody.

Three companies, Apple Daily Limited, Apple Daily Printing Limited and AD Internet Limited, were also charged, while the Security Bureau froze HK$18 million worth of assets of these firms.

Cheung Kim-hung
Cheung Kim-hung.

Chief Magistrate Victor So refused to grant bail to Cheung and Law, after he found there were “insufficient grounds” to believe they would not continue to commit acts endangering national security. The case was adjourned to August 13.

The three other arrestees – Next Digital Chief Operating Officer Royston Chow, Apple Daily Associate Publisher Chan Pui-man and Nick Cheung, who manages the newspaper’s online news platform – were released on police bail last Friday evening.

Police said the case involved around 30 Chinese and English-language articles published by the news outlet since 2019, in some cases before the security law came into force. The authorities said these amounted to calls for sanctions against China and Hong Kong.

Ryan Law
Ryan Law.

According to Article 31 of the security law, a company or an organisation that commits a national security offence can be fined and ordered to shut down.

Apple Daily’s 73-year-old founder Jimmy Lai is currently serving 20 months behind bars for his role in three unauthorised protests in 2019. He is also set to stand trial on national security charges in the city’s High Court, where the maximum penalty is life in prison.

Jimmy Lai
Jimmy Lai being transferred onto a Correctional Services vehicle on February 1, 2021. Photo: Studio Incendo.

Last Thursday’s arrests and raid at Apple Daily prompted Hongkongers to snap up the 500,000 copies on sale the following day, after a special print run, as a show of solidarity.

The raid, which was strongly criticised by foreign governments and rights groups, was the second since August last year, when Lai was arrested. Secretary for Security John Lee said he had reason to believe the assets which have been seized belonged to a crime syndicate. 

An eyewear store iPoint Optical said on Sunday it had received dozens of anonymous calls, after it placed a front-page advertisement featuring black Chinese characters against a white background: “Support Apple.”

The shop owner told Apple Daily the calls affected their daily operations.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.