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Crackdown brings resignations at embattled Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper

A wave of resignations has hit Hong Kong’s embattled pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily as authorities push to silence the outspoken tabloid and staff mull whether to leave or stay until the bitter end.

On late Monday afternoon, Apple Daily’s 1,000-odd staff got the news they had long expected given Hong Kong’s hardening political climate: the 26-year-old paper was on its last legs.

The board had met that day and announced the paper was almost certainly going to close unless they found a way to unfreeze its assets, with a final decision to be made on Friday.

Section heads then gathered staff and told them they could decide whether to resign immediately or stay until the final day – whenever that might be – according to three present employees.

“I hastily decided to hand in my resignation letter after my team meeting,” a reporter who asked to use Joanne’s name told AFP. “I believe the risk of being arrested is real… I do not want to see anyone else being rounded up anymore,” she added. Apple Daily has long been a thorn in Beijing’s side, with unapologetic support for the city’s pro-democracy movement and biting criticism of China’s authoritarian leaders.

Those same leaders have made no secret of wanting to see the paper shuttered.

Its owner Jimmy Lai is in jail, among the first to be charged under a new national security law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong last year to root out dissent after the financial hub was rocked by massive and often violent democracy protests in 2019.

Hong Kong

Asset freeze

Then came last week’s hammer blow came – the charging of two more executives under the powerful security law and the city’s security chief’s freezing of Apple Daily’s assets.

The latter left the paper unable to pay staff, vendors, and suppliers. Advertisers and supporters who tried to deposit money into its accounts could not do so.

Authorities say the police action was sparked by articles that allegedly supported the imposition of sanctions on China and Hong Kong over the last year.

Mr. Lai, the paper’s editor, Ryan Law, and its chief executive Cheung Kim-hung have colluded with foreign forces to undermine China’s national security. They face up to life in prison if convicted.

A man purchases a copy of the Apple Daily newspaper at a newsstand in Hong Kong on 22 June 2021.

Anadolu via Getty Images

Authorities reject suggestions that the prosecution is an assault on press freedoms. They have not identified which articles were illegal but said the paper’s content pointed to a “conspiracy”.

It is not clear how many Apple Daily staff have resigned. Still, several were filmed carrying boxes out of the paper’s headquarters on Monday evening, and the departures have already impacted the paper’s coverage.

On Monday night, the anchor of a half-hour daily evening news show broadcast online announced she was hosting her final episode. “We will meet again, should fate allow. Take care, Hong Kongers,” Tse Hing-yee said in her Swansong broadcast.

The paper’s financial news desk and its English edition have also announced they have ceased publishing. Another reporter who only gave her first name, Peggy, said colleagues spent Monday afternoon bidding farewell to those who had decided to leave and taking group photos. “It felt like a graduation ceremony, but there was the constant sound of someone crying,” she told AFP, adding she had quit and lined up a job in another industry.

Molly Aronson

I'm an award-winning blogger who enjoys all things creative but is especially passionate about lifestyle design. I blog over at mehlogy.com I love that I get to share my passion for healthy living, fashion, fitness, and travel with readers from all over the world.

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