Apple Daily: why is Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper closing, and who is its media tycoon founder Jimmy Lai?

The HK tabloid is to shut down after police froze its assets, heightening alarm over media freedom in the Chinese-ruled city

Copies of the Apple Daily newspaper are seen stacked in Hong Kong, after police arrested the chief editor and four executives of the pro-democracy newspaper (Getty Images)
Copies of the Apple Daily newspaper are seen stacked in Hong Kong, after police arrested the chief editor and four executives of the pro-democracy newspaper (Getty Images)

Hong Kong’s biggest pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily has announced its closure after it was targeted by a national security police raid last week.

The tabloid, founded by tycoon and activist Jimmy Lai, will print its final edition on Thursday (24 June).

Police froze HK$18m (£1.65m) in assets linked to the newspaper, while its chief editor and four other executives were arrested.

So, why is Apple Daily closing, who is its founder Jimmy Lai - and what is the new national security law?

Why has Apple Daily announced its closure?

The publication’s offices were raided by some 500 police following allegations that several of its articles had breached a controversial national security law.

Police cited more than 30 reports published by the tabloid as evidence of an alleged conspiracy to impose foreign sanctions on both mainland China and Hong Kong since 2019.

On Wednesday (23 June), officers arrested a columnist on suspicion of conspiring to collude with a foreign country or foreign forces, according to local media.

Five executives were also arrested at their homes, including the editor-in-chief Ryan Law, and the chief executive Cheung Kim-hung, who were later charged with colluding with foreign or external forces to endanger national security.

The 26-year-old paper, which employs 600 people, has been critical of the leadership in Hong Kong and China.

Apple Daily’s management said that it had decided “to cease operation immediately after midnight” to protect “staff members’ safety”, and the online version of the paper would no longer be updated from then.

The paper’s shut down has heightened alarm over media freedom in the city.

Authorities have been criticised by the UK, US and EU over their operation against the tabloid. They argue that Hong Kong and Chinese police are targeting the city’s promised freedoms since the former British colony was returned to Beijing control in 1997.

Yet officials say that the press must abide by the law, and that media freedom can’t be used as a “shield” for illegal activities.

Who is its founder Jimmy Lai?

More than 100 people have been arrested under Hong Kong’s new national security law, including Apple Daily’s founder Jimmy Lai.

The billionaire tycoon, a staunch critic of Beijing, was arrested last year and is serving a prison sentence for a series of charges, including for taking part in an unauthorised assembly in 2019.

He had been one of the most prominent supporters of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement.

In an interview with the BBC before he was sentenced, Mr Lai became emotional and said he would not give in to intimidation.

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What is the new Hong Kong security law?

China passed a wide-ranging new security law for Hong Kong which came into effect on 30 June last year.

The legal framework makes it easier for China to punish protesters and deal with what it sees as challenges to its authority.

The law criminalises any act of:

Secession (breaking away from the country)

Subversion (undermining the power or authority of of the central government)

Terrorism (using violence or intimidation against people)

Collusion (with foreign or external forces).

These crimes are punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The security law presents Beijing with the power to control life in Hong Kong like never before.

Critics say it essentially restricts protest and freedom of expression, while China has said it will return stability to the city.