A police officer stands guard outside the headquarters of the Apple Daily in Hong Kong on Thursday last week. Photo: AP
NO WAGES: Mark Simon, a senior aide to Jimmy Lai, said that the Hong Kong authorities would not let the newspaper pay its reporters, other staff and vendors
/ AFP, HONG KONG
Hong Kong’s Apple Daily yesterday said that its board would decide whether to close the publication at their next meeting on Friday, after an asset freeze by authorities using the National Security Law left the outspoken media group unable to pay its employees.
Apple Daily has long been a thorn in Beijing’s side, with unapologetic support for the territory’s democracy movement and caustic criticism of China’s authoritarian leaders.
Its owner Jimmy Lai （黎智英） is in jail and was among the first to be charged under the security law after its imposition by Beijing last year. Its chief editor and chief executive were detained last week and its finances frozen under the legislation, which Beijing has used to stamp out dissent in Hong Kong.
The remaining board members met yesterday to discuss the newspaper’s future.
“The board ... decided to meet again on Friday to decide whether to terminate Apple Daily,” the paper said in a short push notification to readers.
The newspaper’s closure would shutter one of the few remaining Hong Kong dailies willing to be critical of China’s authoritarian leaders. It would also be a huge victory for the authorities, who have made no secret of their desire to see the outlet silenced.
In an interview with CNN, Mark Simon, a senior aide to Lai, said that last week’s freeze order had crippled the newspaper’s ability to do business.
“Our problem at Apple Daily is not that we don’t have funds, we have US$50 million in the bank,” Simon said. “Our problem is the secretary of security and the police will not let us pay our reporters, they will not let us pay our staff and they will not let us pay our vendors. They have locked up our accounts.”
Lai, 73, is in prison for attending democracy protests in 2019. He faces a life sentence if convicted of national security crimes.
More than 500 police officers on Thursday last week raided the paper’s newsroom and arrested five executives over a series of articles that police said called for international sanctions.
Two of those executives — editor-in-chief Ryan Law （羅偉光） and Next Digital Ltd （壹傳媒） chief executive officer and Apple Daily publisher Cheung Kim-hung （張劍虹） — have been charged with “colluding” with foreign forces to undermine China’s national security and were remanded into custody at the weekend.
Lai’s personal assets in Hong Kong and his media company shares were frozen last month. Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee （李家超） on Thursday last week said that a further HK$18 million （US$2.3 million） of company assets had been blocked.
“These are all orders from basically the secretary of security. We are facing a security agency, we are not facing courts,” Simon told CNN.
Simon is himself wanted by Hong Kong police on national security charges, but left the territory last year and has since relocated to the US.
Apple Daily said that it was planning to ask Lee to unfreeze some money so it can pay 700 employees. If the application is unsuccessful, the paper said it planned to go to court.
The Hong Kong Security Bureau declined to comment on whether it had been contacted by the newspaper, citing ongoing legal proceedings.
“Endangering national security is a very serious crime,” a bureau spokesperson said. “We handle such crimes according to the law.”