Employees in the newsroom of Apple Daily newspaper after police raided the paper and arrested five executives, in Hong Kong on June 17 2021. Picture: REUTERS/JESSIE PANG
Employees in the newsroom of Apple Daily newspaper after police raided the paper and arrested five executives, in Hong Kong on June 17 2021. Picture: REUTERS/JESSIE PANG

One of the marks of a totalitarian regime is that it can make anyone, and anything, disappear, any time. Such was the case with the demise in June  of Apple Daily, a raucous, pro-democracy tabloid newspaper in Hong Kong that was beloved for its coverage of the territory’s local government — and its outspoken criticism of the Chinese Communist Party.

Hong Kong’s 7.5-million residents protested and mourned the only way that is now allowed to them: by buying up all of the final issue’s 1-million printed copies. They are now mementos of a lost world.

Hong Kong has long been a vibrant media market, and there are still many newspapers and other news outlets operating there. But after what happened to Apple Daily every journalist and publisher, and anyone else thinking of saying anything that might displease Beijing, is on notice.

The 26-year-old paper closed because, one year ago last week, the Party imposed a national security law on Hong Kong, with the aim of extinguishing the territory’s dwindling independence and ending the “one country, two systems” promise China made when it took over the former British colony in 1997.

The law, written and enacted by Beijing, created broad offences for secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers, with special attention to be paid to media. Its wording was at once vague and draconian, with sentences of up to life.

In mid-June, using the law as a pretext, police raided Apple Daily’s offices and arrested the editor-in-chief and five executives on absurd charges of colluding with foreign powers to harm China and Hong Kong. Authorities also froze the assets of the newspaper and its related companies.

With owner Jimmy Lai already in prison on charges related to the massive pro-democracy and anti-Beijing demonstrations of 2019, and with no money to pay employees, Apple Daily announced its closure.

A year after the law came into effect Apple Daily is gone, dozens of pro-democracy activists have been arrested, candidates for “election” must swear fealty to Beijing, local police are learning to goose-step like soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army, and the Chinese ministry that runs Beijing’s secret police — which Hong Kongers once had no reason to fear unless they crossed to the mainland — is building a massive new headquarters on the city’s waterfront. /Toronto, July 6

The Globe & Mail

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