Apple Daily, one of Hong Kong’s largest newspapers and the only one to uphold a pro-democracy editorial line, has been forced to close despite having tens of millions of dollars in its bank accounts that would have allowed it to keep operating.
The funds that would have paid staff and vendors were frozen by the Hong Kong government using the unfettered powers provided by the National Security Law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in June 2020. Simultaneously, Secretary for Security John Lee sent in hundreds of policemen to arrest its top editors and executives and confiscate articles the government calls evidence of “foreign collusion.” (Lee was sanctioned by the United States last year for undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and restricting freedoms.)
Jimmy Lai, the paper’s founder, is already in jail, facing multiple national security prosecutions and serving prison sentences for peaceful protests he joined in 2019. For good measure, the National Security Law prescribes jail terms for bankers who might dare to respect the property of their account holders.
These extraordinary actions against a major newspaper and its staff are a calamitous blow not only to the freedom of the press but also to Hong Kong’s status as an international financial center. The forced closure of Apple Daily, a private company, lacked any due process or any other aspect of the rule of law for which Hong Kong is known. After the seizure of company accounts, Mark Simon, an adviser to Jimmy Lai, told CNN, “We have not had a court decision against us yet…. These are all orders from the secretary of security. We are facing a security agency; we are not facing courts.”