HONG KONG — When Hong Kong-based newspaper Apple Daily closed its doors after 26 years due to a government crackdown, US President Joeseph R. Biden on June 24 termed it as a sad day for media freedom in Hong Kong and around the world.
In a statement by the White House, the US president noted that through arrests, threats, and forcing through a draconian National Security Law that penalizes free speech, Beijing has insisted on wielding its power to suppress independent media and silence dissenting views.
“Independent media play an invaluable role in resilient and prosperous societies,” he said.
“Journalists are truth-tellers who hold leaders accountable and keep information flowing freely—and that is needed now more than ever in Hong Kong and in places around the world where democracy is under threat.”
He further called on China to stop targeting the independent press and release the journalists and media executives who have been detained, stressing that the act of journalism is not a crime.
“People in Hong Kong have the right to freedom of the press. Instead, Beijing is denying basic liberties and assaulting Hong Kong’s autonomy and democratic institutions and processes, inconsistent with its international obligations,” he said.
Biden also promised that the US would not “waver in our support of people in Hong Kong and all those who stand up for the basic freedoms all people deserve.”
Earlier, scores of Hongkongers rushed overnight to buy a copy of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily pro-democracy newspaper’s last-ever edition on June 24.
As queues of customers stretched outside newsstands across Hong Kong on early June 24, a round of applause erupted in the Apple Daily newsroom at 11:45 pm to mark executive editor-in-chief Lam Man-Chung sending off the newspaper’s last issue to the printing press.
“Keep it up, Apple Daily! Keep it up, Hong Kong!” staff chanted as the paper’s followers outside its Tseung Kwan O headquarters whistled and clapped in support.
Apple Daily on June 23 announced that it is shutting its operations earlier than expected and will stop publishing online from midnight. Its management decided to run its last print edition from today.
The newspaper meant a lot to the locals. A pro-democracy Hong Kong activist, Nathan Law, tweets about the same expressing his dreadful Apple Daily’s closure. “Most of you may not understand how dreadful the closure of Apple Daily means to Hong Kong,” the tweet read.
Hong Kong’s national security police detained the paper’s lead editorial writer earlier on June 23 on suspicion of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces, the first such arrest under the Beijing-imposed legislation.
Since the arrest of five of its top executives last June 17, Apple Daily has lost nearly half its workforce. But those remaining on June 22 vowed to carry on through the end.
Last week, police raided Apple Daily’s headquarters and arrested five executives. Lai had launched Next magazine as part of his Next Media group, now known as Next Digital.
The newspaper’s closure was heavily condemned by the international community, with many saying that the Hong Kong government undermines media freedom and pluralism.
(With inputs from ANI)
(Edited by Amrita Das and Pallavi Mehra. Map by Urvashi Makwana)
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