Readers scoop up all one million copies of Apple Daily which claims it was forced to cease operations after police froze $2.3 million of its assets, searched its office and arrested five top editors and executives last week.
The final edition of Hong Kong's last remaining anti-China paper has sold out in hours, as readers scooped up all 1 million copies of the Apple Daily, in China's semi-autonomous city.
Across the densely populated metropolis, people lined up early in the morning on Thursday to buy the paper, which in recent years has become an increasingly outspoken critic of Chinese and Hong Kong authorities.
The paper was gone from newsstands by 8:30 a.m [local time].
The newspaper said it was forced to cease operations after police froze $2.3 million of its assets, searched its office and arrested five top editors and executives last week, accusing them of foreign collusion to endanger national security.
"This is our last day, and last edition, does this reflect the reality that Hong Kong has started to lose its press freedom and freedom of speech?" an Apple Daily graphic designer, Dickson Ng, asked in comments to The Associated Press.
"Why does it have to end up like this?"
2. The parent company of Apple Daily, Next Digital Limited, is a listed company. The govt forced a listed company to close itself in a matter of days, though signs have been there for months.— Nathan Law 羅冠聰 (@nathanlawkc) June 23, 2021
The paper printed 1 million copies for its last edition — up from the usual 80,000.
On the front page was splashed an image of an employee in the office waving at supporters surrounding the building, with the headline "Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain, 'We support Apple Daily.'"
While anti-Beijing media outlets still exist online, it was the only print newspaper of its kind left in the city.
The pressure on the paper reflects a broader crackdown on Hong Kong’s civil liberties, ramped up after massive anti-government protests in 2019 unsettled authorities.
'Sad day' for media
US President Joe Biden lamented a "sad day for media freedom in Hong Kong and around the world" after Apple Daily was forced to close.
"It is a sad day for media freedom in Hong Kong and around the world," Biden said in a statement released by the White House.
"Intensifying repression by Beijing has reached such a level that Apple Daily, a much-needed bastion of independent journalism in Hong Kong, has now ceased publishing," he continued.
"Through arrests, threats, and forcing through a National Security Law that penalises free speech, Beijing has insisted on wielding its power to suppress independent media and silence dissenting views."
Just bumped into a neighbour I’ve never met before. She bought 5 copies of @appledaily_hk this morning. She gave me one. She started crying when talking about the changes here. pic.twitter.com/VB1LQ1Ti0W— Danny Vincent (@dannydvincent) June 18, 2021
New security law
The prosecution of Apple Daily was sparked by articles and columns that allegedly supported international sanctions against China, a view now deemed illegal under the new security law imposed on Hong Kong last year.
The closure of Apple Daily raises the specter that other media outlets — though none as outspoken — will become even more cautious, such as the more than 100-year-old English-language South China Morning Post.
The increasing restrictions have come despite China's promise to protect Hong Kong's civil liberties for 50 years after the city's 1997 handover from Britain.