Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper in crisis talks to avert shutdown, advisor says
The board of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper is in crisis talks amid expectations it could shut down in a matter of days after the arrest of its senior editors and executives, and the freezing of its assets and accounts.
According to Mark Simon, a close adviser of the paper’s jailed owner, Jimmy Lai, the board was holding its fourth meeting in as many days on Monday morning, urgently seeking information to make assessments about the future of the paper.
“The only thing that matters is the secretary of security has locked up all the accounts, and any ability to work with the accounts, so no money equals no news,” he told the Guardian.
National security officials have blocked access to the company’s accounts, leaving it unable to pay staff and suppliers, or accept funds, he said.
He told Reuters: “We thought we’d be able to make it to the end of the month. It’s just getting harder and harder. It’s essentially a matter of days.”
Apple Daily said on Sunday the freezing of its assets had left the liberal newspaper with cash for “a few weeks” for normal operations.”
Lam Man-chung, executive chief editor of Apple Daily, confirmed to AFP that the media group’s board was meeting on Monday.
On Thursday morning a national security police operation involving hundreds of officers raided the homes of five executives, including Apple Daily editor-in-chief, Ryan Law, and arrested them under the national security law, before raiding the newsroom with an unprecedented warrant allowing the seizure of journalistic materials.
Police also froze HK$18m (US $2.3m) in assets of three companies, Apple Daily Limited, Apple Daily Printing Limited and AD Internet Limited. Simon said an additional $500m was in the locked accounts. He said the process for seeking an unfreezing of the assets would take weeks.
Law and the company’s chief executive, Cheung Kim-hung, were charged on Friday, accuse of colluding for foreign or external forces, and were denied bail. The three companies connected to Apple Daily are also being prosecuted for the same crimes.
Simon, who has since relocated to the US, is wanted by Hong Kong police under the national security law. Law faces life in prison.
On Sunday Apple Daily said the asset freezing had left the company with enough cash for only a few weeks of normal operations, and also affected staff payroll.
Police said the operation and charges related to more than 30 articles published in the paper since 2019 – despite the non-retroactive law only coming into force in 2020 – which allegedly called for foreign sanctions on the Hong Kong and Chinese governments.
The police operation is a significant escalation in the government’s moves to stifle Hong Kong’s press, of which the pro-democracy tabloid was widely considered to be a primary target. Lai has been in jail since December, on protest related charges and awaiting trial for national security charges, including for alleged foreign collusion.
In an editorial published on Monday, Apple Daily said the impact of the raid, and the arrests and charges of its leaders, had been “huge” on the paper’s daily operations.
“Large-scale searches and arrests by the police have caused psychological distress, and journalists are much more concerned about stepping on the red line as they carry out their daily reporting work,” it said.
“The aftermath of the searches and arrests has not been settled, and the political and legal pressure will continue to escalate.”
It said the use of the warrant to seize about 40 journalists’ computers was a warning to the rest of Hong Kong’s media.
“The police were able to obtain news information that was originally confidential, meaning that journalists and news organisations can no longer effectively protect sensitive information, and identities of “whistleblowers” could easily be revealed,” it said.