‘Dark day’: 'Heartbreaking' message posted in newsroom window

·Assistant News Editor
·5-min read

The Chinese Communist Party's political stranglehold on Hong Kong has grown considerably tighter. 

The city's much loved pro-democracy newspaper, the Apple Daily, has been forced to shut down as its journalists faced the threat of jail from a draconian national security law imposed by Beijing. 

The closure of the popular tabloid, which mixes pro-democracy views with celebrity gossip and investigations of those in power, marks the end of an era for media freedom in the now Chinese-ruled city, critics say.

Stacks of the final edition of the Apple Daily surrounded by people.
Copies of the final edition of the Apple Daily newspaper being delivered to a news stand as Hong Kong locals stayed out late to grab a copy. Source: Getty Images

Its closure comes after its mogul owner Jimmy Lai was arrested in December and other executives were arrested last week as the Chinese mainland ramps up its crackdown on freedoms in the former British colony. 

Last week, the assets of companies linked to the newspaper were frozen and five executives were arrested.

On Wednesday, police arrested a columnist on suspicion of conspiring to collude with foreign forces.

Pictures posted on social media showed garbage bags piled high in the newsroom, purportedly with shredded notebooks and other supplies.

Outside the building on Wednesday night, supporters stood in the rain to cheer on the journalists and show support. 

Members of the newsroom waved their phone lights and left messages in the windows which could be seen from the street.

"Thank you for supporting Apple Daily Hong Kong," they read.

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Another 'dark day' for Hong Kong

With the last print edition going out, some residents stood in line in the early hours of the morning to get their hands on the tabloid's final copy. 

"Thank you to all readers, subscribers, ad clients and Hong Kongers for 26 years of immense love and support. Here we say goodbye, take care of yourselves," the paper said in an online article before the site disappears.

Asian-based New York Times journalist Paul Mozur was among many online to mourn the death of the paper – seen by many as a harbinger of the end of press freedom in the city. 

"Heartbreaking out of Hong Kong. Another dark day in a year of them for the city. The last issue of the last truly independent paper in the city has been sent to the presses. Crazy to think of Hong Kong without Apple Daily," he tweeted.

Jack Hazelwood, a columnist at Apple Daily, told ABC radio on Thursday morning "events have been fast moving" in the past week since the newsroom was raided. 

"It has come very abruptly," he said.

Hazelwood believes other pro-democracy outlets in Hong Kong "will be picked off like a scab" in the next year or so. 

"I cannot foresee any independent media operating in Hong Kong," he lamented.

Supporters holding up mobile phone torches at the headquarters of the Apple Daily newspaper.
Supporters illuminate mobile phone torches outside the headquarters of the Apple Daily newspaper. Source: Getty Images
A woman holds up the final copy in the street in the early hours of Thursday morning in Hong Kong.
A woman holds the final copy aloft in the street in the early hours of Thursday morning in Hong Kong. Source: Getty Images

Locals queue to buy paper in 'painful farewell'

The last front page carried a photograph of a member of staff waving at supporters, with the headline "Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain".

Apple Daily's support for democratic rights and freedoms has made it a thorn in Beijing's side since it began in 1995.

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It shook up the region's Chinese-language media landscape and became a champion of democracy on the margins of Communist China.

Its owner Jimmy Lai, a self-made tycoon who was smuggled from mainland China into Hong Kong on a fishing boat at the age of 12, remains in custody and faces the rest of his life in prison.

Apple Daily's supporters championed it as a beacon of media freedom in the Chinese-speaking world.

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It repeatedly challenged Beijing's authoritarianism and was read by dissidents and a more liberal Chinese diaspora.

Lai, whose assets have been frozen, has been in jail since December on charges, stemming from pro-democracy protests, of taking part in unauthorised assemblies.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday criticism of the raid on the newspaper amounted to attempts to "beautify" acts that endangered national security.

with Reuters

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