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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An worker walks on the places of work of Apple Each day and Subsequent Media after police raided the newsroom, in Hong Kong, China June 17, 2021. REUTERS/Lam Yik

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By Sharon Abratique and Jessie Pang

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s most vocal pro-democracy newspaper, Apple (NASDAQ:) Each day, printed its final version on Thursday after a stormy 12 months by which its tycoon proprietor and different workers had been arrested underneath a brand new nationwide safety regulation, and its belongings had been frozen.

The closure of the favored tabloid, which mixes pro-democracy views with movie star gossip and investigations of these in energy, marks the top of an period for media freedom within the Chinese language-ruled metropolis, critics say.

“Thanks to all readers, subscribers, advert shoppers and Hong Kongers for 26 years of immense love and assist. Right here we are saying goodbye, handle yourselves,” the paper stated in an internet article.

A whole lot of supporters gathered exterior Apple Each day’s constructing on Wednesday evening to indicate assist, typically in heavy rain, and waved smartphone lights. Journalists got here out onto the balcony and responded with their very own telephones.

The final entrance web page carried {a photograph} of a member of workers waving at supporters, with the headline “Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell within the rain”.

A Reuters reporter current within the Apple Each day newsroom noticed dozens of journalists break into applause as soon as the ultimate version was despatched to press, and a few in tears.

Reporter Alvin Chan went exterior to distribute free copies to the supporters, saying: “I hope everybody can … proceed to consider in our values.”

The paper, whose on-line model can even cease updating, stated it was printing 1,000,000 copies of its final version – greater than 10 occasions its regular print run.

Shortly after midnight, some information stands ready for supply already had tons of of individuals queueing.

Apple Each day’s assist for democratic rights and freedoms has made it a thorn in Beijing’s aspect since proprietor Jimmy Lai, a self-made tycoon who was smuggled from mainland China into Hong Kong on a fishing boat on the age of 12, began it in 1995.

It shook up the area’s Chinese language-language media panorama and have become a champion of democracy on the margins of Communist China. Its demise leaves solely a handful of small on-line retailers on that aspect of politics, together with Stand Information and Citizen Information.

Employees unions at Citizen Information and 6 different media teams stated they might put on black on Thursday in protest at what they described as “the federal government’s blow in opposition to freedom of the press”. Administration at Citizen Information and Stand Information couldn’t be reached for remark.

CHALLENGE TO BEIJING

Apple Each day’s supporters championed it as a beacon of media freedom within the Chinese language-speaking world. It repeatedly challenged Beijing’s authoritarianism and was learn by dissidents and a extra liberal Chinese language diaspora.

Lai, whose belongings have been frozen, has been in jail since December on prices, stemming from pro-democracy protests, of participating in unauthorised assemblies.

Some rights teams, media organisations and Western governments have criticised the motion in opposition to the newspaper.

Hong Kong chief Carrie Lam stated on Tuesday that criticism of the raid on the newspaper amounted to makes an attempt to “beautify” acts that endangered nationwide safety. Chinese language officers have denounced the criticism as interference.

Hong Kong and mainland officers have repeatedly stated that media freedoms are revered however usually are not absolute.

Apple Each day, which was revealed by Subsequent Digital and employed tons of of journalists, stated in its on-line article that the choice to shut was “primarily based on worker security and manpower issues”.

Since being raided by police, the newspaper says it has suffered mass resignations and whole departments have needed to shut.

Final week, the belongings of firms linked to the newspaper had been frozen and 5 executives had been arrested. On Wednesday, police arrested a columnist on suspicion of conspiring to collude with international forces.

Apple Each day and Subsequent Digital administration couldn’t be reached to remark additional.

In an interview with Reuters, an adviser to Lai stated on Monday that the paper would shut “in a matter of days”.

The paper’s newsroom was raided by about 200 police final August, when Lai was arrested on suspicion of colluding with international forces, and once more final week, by 500 police, when the opposite executives had been detained.

INCREASED PRINT RUN

On each events, the paper stated it had elevated its print run to 500,000 the next day from the same old 80,000, and residents of the town of seven.5 million snapped it up earlier than daybreak.

The police motion was probably the most direct assault on Hong Kong’s freewheeling media since Beijing regained management of the town in 1997.

Authorities in Hong Kong have stated the strikes in opposition to Apple Each day weren’t focusing on the media business or press freedom.

The safety regulation imposed on the town final 12 months was Beijing’s first main transfer to place Hong Kong on a extra authoritarian path.

Lam and different pro-Beijing officers have stated it has restored stability after months of often-violent pro-democracy protests.

The Taiwan arm of Apple Each day stated it will proceed to publish on-line, as its funds are impartial.

Apple Each day has come underneath growing strain since Lai was arrested final 12 months underneath the safety laws.

Authorities have stated dozens of Apple Each day articles might have violated the safety regulation, the primary occasion of authorities taking goal at media experiences underneath the laws.

Subsequent Digital has been saved afloat by loans from Lai. In Might, Reuters reported solely that Hong Kong’s safety chief had despatched letters to branches of HSBC and Citibank threatening as much as seven years’ jail for any dealings with the billionaire’s accounts within the metropolis.