1 month since Apple Daily shut, concern over H.K. free press lingers

Caroline Tam, Kyodo News

Posted at Jul 25 2021 07:59 AM

HONG KONG - Saturday marked one month since Hong Kong's pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily ceased operations after 26 years in circulation, with lingering concerns about the future of press freedom in the territory.

Known for its pro-democratic stance and fearless criticism of the Chinese Communist Party, Apple Daily was forced to shut down after the Hong Kong government froze its assets.

The outspoken newspaper had faced mounting pressure from Chinese and Hong Kong authorities after its founder Jimmy Lai was arrested under the national security law, which criminalizes acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Lai is currently serving a 14-month jail sentence for his involvement in the 2019 pro-democracy protests and faces additional charges of conspiracy to collude with foreign powers and conspiracy to pervert justice for allegedly helping fugitives flee to Taiwan last year.

Earlier this week, police arrested former Apple Daily editor-in-chief Lam Man-chung on suspicion of collusion with external forces and endangering national security.

Authorities also revoked the bail arrangements of former associate publisher Chan Pui-man, along with editorial writers Fung Wai-kong and Yeung Ching-kee who were arrested on the same charges last month.

The four former executives were denied bail after appearing in court on Thursday.

Apple Daily's closure and the subsequent arrests of its employees have sparked fears of a broader crackdown by Beijing, with many fearing for the future of press freedom in Hong Kong.

Just days after Apple Daily was forced to fold, pro-democracy online news outlet Stand News announced that it would take down all opinion pieces published before May to minimize risks to it under the sweeping national security law.

"The people of Hong Kong will be very disappointed if they lose Stand News after losing Apple Daily," a Stand News reporter told Kyodo News, asking to remain anonymous. "We will continue to work day by day while paying close attention to the contents of our reports."

In May, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that the government was working on new legislation to combat "misinformation, hatred and lies" in Hong Kong.

Last month, Hong Kong's Commissioner of Police Raymond Siu, blamed "fake news" for fueling public hostility and mistrust toward the police force and said he welcomed any legislation that could help tackle the issue.

However, critics argue that the proposed bill could further encroach on Hong Kong's press freedom.

In an annual report published last week, the Hong Kong Journalists Association criticized the proposed legislation, arguing that the weaponization of "fake news" will lead to self-censorship and further worsen the environment for press freedom.

The organization also addressed the implementation of the national security law and subsequent arrest of Jimmy Lai, calling it an "unprecedented move" that has dealt a "psychological blow" to Hong Kong's media sector.

The report further condemned the government-mandated overhaul of public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong, which saw a major reshuffling of staff and management as well as the abrupt cancellation of several programs over the past year.

"With the 'political red line' almost everywhere, pressure on free thinking is mounting," the report reads. "The room for freedom is shrinking swiftly."

In the past year, Chinese and Hong Kong authorities have intensified efforts to crack down on dissent in Hong Kong following the 2019 pro-democracy protests that left the city in political and social turmoil.

Earlier this month, Hong Kong's national security police arrested five people for publishing "seditious" children's picture books that allegedly incite young people's hatred toward the Hong Kong government.

==Kyodo 

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