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Apple Daily, the last pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper, to be closed

Next Media, the parent company of Apple Daily, announced Wednesday in a statement that print and online editions of Apple Daily will be discontinued due to "current circumstances prevailing" in Hong Kong.

China's latest move to tighten its grip on the city, long known for its freedoms, is the result of massive antigovernment protests in the country. Beijing has since imposed a strict national safety law, which was used in the arrests and reformulation of Hong Kong's election laws to prevent opposition voices from the legislature.

Jimmy Lai, a tycoon and founder of Apple Daily, founded the paper in 1995. It was just two years after Britain handed Hong Kong back from China. At first, it was known for celebrity gossip. The paper reveals that Lai had always presented the paper as a champion of democratic values. He said the paper should "shine light on snakes and insects, mice, and ants in darkness".

It became a prominent voice in Hong Kong for defending freedoms not found on mainland China. In recent years, it has frequently criticized the Chinese government and Hong Kong governments for limiting these freedoms and for breaking a promise to preserve them for 50 more years after the city was handed over to China. It is the only newspaper of its kind in Hong Kong, and it still exists online as pro-democracy media outlets.

In an Instagram post, the paper thanked its followers.

Apple Daily stated, "Even though the ending isn't what we want, even when it's hard to let go, there's no reason to stop living."

According to the newspaper, 1,000,000 copies will be printed for Thursday's final edition. This is an increase from the normal 80,000.

The newspaper's announcement came at the same time as the first trial in the city under the year-old National Security Law. This is closely monitored to gauge how strict the courts will interpret this legislation.

Apple Daily's expected closure follows last week's arrests, and more importantly, the freezing of $2.3million of paper's assets. The board of directors of the paper wrote to Hong Kong's security agency a few days back to request some of its funds to be released to pay employees. However, it isn't clear if they responded. It also stated that it closed the paper out of concern for the safety of its employees.

Editors and executives were arrested on suspicion of conspiring with foreigners in order to endanger the national security. Police used more than 30 articles from the paper to prove that there was an alleged conspiracy to pressure foreign countries to impose sanctions against Hong Kong and China. This was the first instance of the use of the national security law against journalists who had published something.

Apple Daily reported that a 55-year old man was also taken into police custody on Wednesday for foreign collusion to endanger the national security. According to Apple Daily, the paper stated that the man wrote editorials under the pseudonym Li Ping.

Apple Daily's pro-democracy stance has come under increased scrutiny in recent years. Lai, the founder of Apple Daily, is currently in prison for his participation in the 2019 protests and faces charges under the National Security Law for Foreign Collusion.

Apple Daily was criticized by the U.S., EU and Britain.

Dominic Raab, British Foreign Secretary, stated in a tweet that the Hong Kong authorities forced Apple Daily to close. This is a chilling display of their campaign against all opposition voices. It is now clearer than ever that (national security law), is being used to restrict freedom and punish dissent.

Maria Adebahr, spokesperson for the German Foreign Ministry, called the closure "a hard blow against press freedoms in Hong Kong."

Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International Asia-Pacific Regional Director, stated that the police action against Apple Daily "will send a chill down the spines of all media outlets in Hong Kong."

Mishra stated that the forced closure of Apple Daily was the darkest day in Hong Kong's recent history for media freedom. The government effectively banned the paper for publishing criticisms of it and reporting on international discussions regarding Hong Kong.

Last year's law criminalizes secession, terrorist acts, and foreign collusion. Officials from China and Hong Kong have stated that the media must adhere to the law and that the press cannot be used as a shield for illegal activities.

Tong Yingkit, the first to face trial, pleaded not guilty to terroristic and inciting secession charges. He was accused of driving a motorcycle into officers at a rally in 2019, while holding a flag that read "Liberate Hong Kong. The revolution of our times." Three officers were also injured.

This slogan was often used during the 2019 protests. They began as protests against a bill that would allow Hong Kong residents to be extradited back to China, but have since grown to include calls for more democratic freedoms. China was shaken and took tough measures, including the national security bill that makes Hong Kong independence calls illegal.

Tong's trial will be a model for Hong Kong's handling of national security offenses. More than 100 people have been detained under the law so far. Many others fled to other countries. It has effectively silenced the opposition voices in the area.

Last month, a court ruled that Tong would stand trial without a jury. This is a departure from Hong Kong’s common law traditions. A panel of three judges may replace jurors under the national security law. The city leader can also designate judges to handle such cases.

For serious offenses, the law carries a maximum penalty that can be carried out in prison: a life sentence. Tong is currently being tried at the High Court. There, sentences are not limited.

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