press freedom

The rise and fall of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily and media magnate Jimmy Lai

Reuters
The rise and fall of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily and media magnate Jimmy Lai

Journalists of Apple Daily wave to supporters at the headquarters of the Apple Daily newspaper, and its publisher Next Digital, after the announcement that the newspaper is folding its operations earlier, in Hong Kong, China June 23, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Here's a timeline of events leading up to the closure of Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily

Hong Kong’s last remaining major pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, will publish its final edition on Thursday, June 24, following an unrelenting crackdown by authorities under a sweeping China-imposed national security law that has smothered freedoms.

Copies of the Apple Daily newspaper are seen at a newspaper stall after it looked set to close for good by Saturday following police raids and the arrest of executives in Hong Kong, China June 22, 2021.
REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Following is a timeline of events leading up to this.

June 20, 1995

Apple Daily publishes its first edition. Founded by businessman Jimmy Lai, the tabloid daily, with its critical reporting on China, is a runaway commercial success.

“As long as readers choose us, support our journalism, and agree with our position, no matter how strong the pressure becomes, we will be able to stand tall,” the newspaper said in an editorial that day.

In 1994 Lai had called Chinese premier Li Peng the “son of a turtle egg” in a weekly magazine that he launched before the daily. The insult rankled Beijing.

July 1, 1997

On the handover of Hong Kong’s sovereignty from Britain to China, Apple Daily said it remained confident in Hong Kong’s future.

July 8, 2019

Lai meets US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington to discuss the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy over a contentious extradition bill that sparked mass protests.

The China state-owned Global Times calls Lai a “traitor” for “brazen collusion” with the West to fuel the Hong Kong protests.

Media mogul Jimmy Lai, founder of Apple Daily, arrives the Court of Final Appeal by prison van in Hong Kong, China February 9, 2021.
File photo by Tyrone Siu/Reuters
June 30, 2020

China directly imposes a national security law on Hong Kong without public consultation or city legislative involvement. The law sets out punishment for anything China considers subversion, secession, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces, of up to life in prison.

August 10

Hong Kong police arrest Lai, one of the most outspoken critics of Beijing, and eight others in a city-wide operation. Hundreds of police raid Lai’s Next Digital headquarters, where his flagship Apple Daily is produced and published. He is released on bail.

December 3

Lai is taken into custody and charged with fraud related to the lease of a building that houses Apple Daily.

December 11

Lai is charged under the security law on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces and endangering national security – partly from having sought sanctions against Hong Kong.

A supporter of media mogul Jimmy Lai, founder of Apple Daily, holds signs as his prison van leaves the Court of Final Appeal, in Hong Kong, China December 31, 2020.
REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
December 23

Lai is granted bail and is able to spend Christmas at home.

December 29

Lai resigns as chairman of Next Digital.

December 31

Lai is taken back into custody after a higher court overruled the bail decision following a wave of criticism by pro-Beijing voices who say he is a flight risk.

Thank you to all readers, subscribers, ad clients and Hong Kongers for 26 years of immense love and support.

Apple Daily

February 8, 2021

Lai’s legal battle for bail reaches Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal. A panel of five judges unanimously denied him bail saying the lower court applied an “erroneous line of reasoning”.

April 12

“Defending freedom of speech is a dangerous job. It is our responsibility as journalists to seek justice,” Lai writes from prison.

April 16

Hong Kong police chief Chris Tang warns an unspecified newspaper for dividing society. He says “fake news” could be linked to national security and police may launch investigations into those who breach national security laws.

April 16

On the same day, Lai is jailed for 14 months for taking part in unauthorized assemblies during protests in August 2019.

May 11

Apple Daily‘s chief editor Ryan Law and its CEO reassure staff over rumours Hong Kong authorities would shut the newspaper before July 1 and arrest staff. July 1 is the centenary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.

May 14

Hong Kong authorities freeze assets belonging to Lai, including all shares in Next Digital – the first time a listed firm has been targeted by national security laws in the financial hub. Lai now faces three charges under the security law including collusion with a foreign country.

May 27

Reuters reports that Hong Kong’s security chief sent letters to Lai and branches of HSBC and Citibank in May, threatening jail of up to 7 years for any dealings with Lai’s accounts in the city.

May 29

Lai receives a second 14-month jail sentence for another protest.

Apple Daily’s Deputy Chief Editor Chan Pui-man is escorted by police into the offices of Apple Daily and Next Media after police arrested five Apple Daily executives in Hong Kong, China June 17, 2021. 
REUTERS/Lam Yik
June 17

Police arrest 5 executives of Apple Daily, including chief editor Ryan Law and CEO Cheung Kim-hung. Hundreds of officers raid Next Media’s headquarters and search its newsroom, seizing computers.

Law and Cheung are charged with conspiracy to commit collusion with a foreign country, over unspecified articles in the paper calling for sanctions against Hong Kong and China. Authorities freeze HK$18 million ($2.3 million) of Apple‘s assets, making it difficult to pay wages and cover expenses.

Police officers gather at the headquarters of Apple Daily in Hong Kong, China June 17, 2021.
Apple Daily/Handout via REUTERS
June 19

Law and Cheung are denied bail by Judge Victor So.

June 20

Apple Daily marks its 26th anniversary. The paper says it has cash left for “a few weeks” of normal operations.

June 21

An adviser to Lai tells Reuters the paper will be forced to shut “in a matter of days”. Most staff resign, leaving a skeleton crew to keep going. Its board of directors call on authorities to unfreeze assets and say unless things change, the last edition will be published on June 26.

June 23

Police arrest an Apple Daily columnist on a national security charge. The paper brings forward its closing date, with one million copies of its last edition to run on June 24.

“Thank you to all readers, subscribers, ad clients and Hong Kongers for 26 years of immense love and support,” the paper writes. – Rappler.com