Photographers attend as the final issue of the Apple Daily newspaper was delivered to a newspaper stands on June 24, 2021 in Hong Kong, China. The 26 year-old Apple Daily had announced it was closing due to a lack of funds after the government froze its assets as part of a national security investigation. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
By Edward Chin
June 20, 1995 was the first print edition of Apple Daily in Hong Kong. June 24, 2021 was the last print run of Apple Daily. The raid of Next Digital, the parent company of Apple Daily and Next Magazine in Cheung Kwan O by 500 police in June last year, has been more than surreal. It finally led to the closure of the newspaper. On June 24, 2021, one million copies were printed.
One year has passed since the closure of the pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong. Subsequently, on-line news media companies StandNews and Citizen News were also forced to shut down due to the political pressure. The latest blow is FactWire, an investigative report agency, who became the latest fatality in the Hong Kong. It shut down operations on June 10, 2022.
The “red line” of the National Security Law (NSL) has been vague and is also a moving target—it has created a chilling effect for everyone, no explanation needed. For the everyday reader in Hong Kong and for Hongkongers overseas, what is left in Hong Kong now is “un-free speech,” either you bow down and succumb, or else you get punished, or you face “dire consequences.” Hongkongers can see and understand it clearly now.
The incoming Chief Executive of Hong Kong, John Lee Ka-chiu, who will be sworn into office on July 1, has been sanctioned by the U.S. government during Donald Trump’s administration for destroying Hong Kong’s autonomy. People of Hong Kong have had a lot to fear since the enactment of the NSL two years ago. Some might still remember John Lee, who was then the security minister for Hong Kong, kept appearing and re-appearing on TV during the “last days” of Apple Daily, with one chilling message: “Don’t collude with Apple Daily’s management in any shape or form, or else you face dire consequences.” There were a lot of assumptions made, and that made the fee-paying subscribers of Apple Daily worried.
Rewind the clock one year ago before the final days that lead to the shutting-down of the newspaper. If I buy a copy of Apple Daily from the newsstand or are already on monthly subscription, or are one of the newspaper’s VIP patrons, would I as a reader also face official retribution? In a normal society, it would be insane to think this way. But sadly, Hong Kong has been turned into a rule by fear society. Back one year ago, everyone had hoped this “horror show” was just temporary. One year has passed and the “horror show” continues.
In the first “From the Editor” inaugural publication of Apple Daily on June 20, 1995, with a direct translation from Chinese to English, it reads as follows: “Apple Daily belongs to Hong Kong.” It is a newspaper for Hong Kong people to read, to fill the gap to what was available to the market then in 1995—exactly two years before Hong Kong’s handover from the British to communist China. Fast forward from 1995 to the present day 2022, one year after the shut-down of Apple Daily, we know that Hong Kong has become unrecognizable, and there are so many forces at play trying to outlaw perhaps the last few remaining on-line news media. I don’t want to name the names of the remaining smaller outfits, as I don’t want to jinx them.
On the last print day of Apple Daily, Thursday, June 24, 2021. I went to my favorite newsstand trying to get copies of the final print copy of the Apple Daily. I needed many copies, the reason for which I may perhaps tell you in the next “opinion piece” on The Epoch Times.
I was doing a livestream on my Youtube Channel: Ed Chin World, to witnessed this “historical moment” at a major newsstand in Central, Hong Kong, the financial district across the street from the landmark Entertainment Building. It was a rainy day, and Sarah Liang, the journalist from Epoch Times, was also around the newsstand witnessing and reporting this sad but historical moment. Lots of people were lining up for the last copy of the paper. A few customers lined up to purchased not one, but many copies, perhaps as an indication of solidarity to support the newspaper.
One might ask: how could law abiding Hongkongers living in Hong Kong continue to bear it, if their basic right to choose what to read was not even ensured? One year after the newspaper was shut down, the answer is clear. The newspaper was put down by brute force, by the totalitarian regime of communist Hong Kong and communist China. The NSL has become a fierce weapon that defied all logic, and very sadly, it has made a mockery of the original 1.0 version of the “one country two systems,” as prescribed in the Basic Law. And may I say, most people in present day 2022, a few days before the 25th anniversary of the so called “one country two systems” don’t believe the “two systems” exist in Hong Kong anymore. It is just something “on paper” only.
Surreal is the only word I can use to describe what had happened, when 500 police raided the Next Digital building last June. If in defence of free speech and press freedom means putting the management, senior editorial staff and the 72 percent majority shareholder Jimmy Lai out of business or in jail, then my conclusion is simple: under the “new normal,” a “free press” cannot be tolerated in Hong Kong anymore. The totalitarian regime has an overarching power to decide what is legal or not. And with this very broad power, you are restrained. International businesses operating in Hong Kong will now wonder: is it all worth it to carry on, when the authorities are empowered to detain and seize? And in the case for the then Security Minister John Lee, he surely was empowered to freeze the assets of anyone in Hong Kong and more. And yet, he is a main actor in the “horror show” of murdering Apple Daily.
As the saying goes, you might chain someone’s physical body, but you cannot chain someone’s soul and spirit. Hong Kong has gone to the point of no return. We have all survive many storms in Hong Kong, but now, a city without a major pro-democracy newspaper, and having seven of Apple Daily’s staff in jail because of the alleged violation of the NSL, we all know that the political purge is not quite yet finished. The “cleansing process” from the totalitarian regime is not quite over yet.
Communist China once promised freedom for Hong Kong. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press. Freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and freedom to travel. All mentioned here have been on a downward spiral. In actual fact, there is no real freedom in Hong Kong anymore. That said, we should keep this “free spirit” alive, and fight for freedom, where ever you are. Let us not forget, the Apple Daily seven who are now locked up, and the many brave Apple Daily journalists and columnists, who fearlessly edit, comment and report the Hong Kong stories, until the very end, and fight for our freedoms.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of NTD Canada.