Some supporters held up their mobile phone lights and shouted slogans to support Apple Daily and its … [+] employees. On June 24, 2021, Hong Kongs most popular pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, was subject to various political pressures within a year. The newspaper’s last issue was released on Thursday, and 1 million copies were printed for purchase by the public. Attached a special issue to the newspaper to give the citizens the last “gift.” About a thousand supporters came to the scene to support Apple Daily and send their final farewells. In the early morning, Apple Daily closed different social platforms. (Photo by Leung Man Hei/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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On June 17, 500 Hong Kong police raided the headquarters of Apple Daily — a well-known, pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong. It was only a matter of time. After Beijing interfered in Hong Kong’s autonomy by implementing a new National Security Law in June 2020, Apple Daily knew that it would quickly become a target.
The first raid came within months of the new law’s implementation. In August 2020, Hong Kong police raided the newspaper’s offices and picked up its founder, Jimmy Lai. Lai was later sentenced to 14 months in jail for his involvement in pro-democracy protests. After Lai was taken into custody, many wondered not if, but when, the 26-year-old publication would be shuttered for good.
Lai was a pillar of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement in no small part because he founded Next Digital, Apple Daily’s parent company. He launched the newspaper itself shortly before the British handed Hong Kong back to China under the one-country, two-systems framework. The paper quickly gained a reputation for salacious, tabloid-like reporting, but also cutting-edge reporting on the pro-democracy movement and political subjects du jour.
Police tried to justify last week’s raid by claiming that the paper had colluded with foreign forces — a serious offense under the new National Security Law. Authorities rationalized these charges in part because Apple Daily published op-eds calling for sanctions against China for undermining freedom in Hong Kong.
At least 44 of the newspaper’s computers were taken during the raid. Security forces also froze the paper’s bank accounts and arrested at least seven Apple Daily employees, including chief editor Ryan Law and Next Digital’s CEO, Cheung Kim-hung.
On June 23, the board of Next Digital announced its inevitable decision: Apple Daily would stop publication. As the news became public, Hong Kongers queued in the streets to buy a copy of the now final edition.
While countless pro-democracy advocates like Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, Ivan Lam, Jimmy Lai, and Martin Lee (often called Hong Kong’s Father of Democracy) have been taken into custody, charged, and sentenced to time behind bars, the closure of Apple Daily represents a new highwater mark in Beijing’s interference in Hong Kong.
Apple Daily is a symbol of freedom of speech and freedom of expression as a newspaper, but it was also a business. It’s forced closure is meant to send a chilling message to the city-state’s business community that Beijing will not allow business as usual; those who dare exercise the old freedoms will not go unscathed.
The international community observed with dismay Beijing’s unjustified intervention in Hong Kong following pro-democracy protests there in 2019. After the introduction of the National Security Law, the Trump administration decertified Hong Kong’s special status saying that it was no longer sufficiently autonomous to merit separate treatment under U.S. law — a status since renewed by the Biden administration. Both administrations also issued targeted sanctions to hold individuals accountable for undermining liberty in Hong Kong.
The Executive Order that revoked Hong Kong’s special status includes provisions for extending refugee status to Hong Kongers fleeing persecution. The U.S. should go one step further and offer Priority-2 refugee status to those in need of safe haven.
While these steps cannot undo the damage Beijing has inflicted on Hong Kong, they can help those reeling from the assault on freedom in the place they call home. Congress and the Biden administration should give serious consideration to extending refugee status, especially in light of last week’s attacks on Apple Daily.