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Hong Kong's 'Apple Daily' Shut Down, Leadership Arrested


Hong Kong's most prominent pro-democracy newspaper will shut down. Jimmy Lai publishes Apple Daily. Now, he's behind bars. His bank accounts have been frozen. And the newspaper's bank accounts have been frozen as well, making it impossible for the paper to continue publishing. Outside their offices, people have been shouting messages of support.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in non-English language).

CORNISH: NPR's Emily Feng joins us to tell us about Apple Daily's final hours. And Emily, let's just start on why Hong Kong has been focused on this one newspaper.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Well, first of all, it's a really visible paper. Apple Daily is one of the most-read papers in Hong Kong, and it's beloved by readers for its feisty pro-democracy editorials and its investigative reporting. It's also known for gossip, so it's fun to read. And as chatty and clickbaity (ph) as some of its content could be, it is one of the few independent Hong Kong outlets that dares to publish hard-hitting coverage that's often very critical of Beijing.

So the paper's founder, Jimmy Lai, is a celebrity and rightly so. He came to Hong Kong as a political refugee fleeing mainland China. He builds up this textile fortune, and then he uses his billions of dollars to fund democracy activism and, 26 years ago, to start Apple Daily. His paper is unabashedly pro-democracy, and Lai himself has made no secret of his opposition to Beijing's control of Hong Kong.

CORNISH: We mentioned frozen bank accounts. Can you talk about how authorities managed to shut it down - kind of, like, why now?

FENG: Yeah. Apple Daily is really a victim of the national security law. It's been made an example so that anyone who might have otherwise dare defy Beijing now sees the legal might Beijing can muster to turn against an entity that it finds annoying, in this case. Beijing's argument is that Apple Daily has been influential in arguing in favor of U.S. and European sanctions on China because of its strict control over Hong Kong.

And so first, Hong Kong arrests Jimmy Lai last August. He's been charged under this national security law for meeting with U.S. politicians and asking them to put sanctions on China. Then, they froze Lai's personal bank account so he couldn't keep funding Apple Daily. But the readers rallied. They bought more subscriptions. They donated. And so last week, Ryan Law, the editor-in-chief of the paper, and four other executives were arrested.

And most importantly, at the same time, police froze the corporate accounts for the paper, meaning although Apple Daily has money, they can't access any of it to pay their staff or to cover the cost of printing. And that is why the paper is shutting down tomorrow. And its last print edition is supposed to be Saturday.

CORNISH: So Emily, finally, you mentioned people trying to buy up papers to help out, but what's been the reaction now that they're closing?

FENG: There is a strong sense of disbelief. Reporters are still working in the newsroom and filing up until today. Many of them say they're not going to leave until the very last moment. And readers have been going around buying up multiple copies of the print edition as keepsakes. But for people who worked at Apple Daily, they knew full well ahead of time that the paper is on the front lines of Beijing's crackdown in the region. So it was just a question of how long the paper could hold out and when it was going to shut down.

But now that Apple Daily is about to close, other media outlets are very nervous. They're wondering who is going to be next. And Hong Kong was once known as a freewheeling, sometimes raucous reporting environment, where people said whatever they wanted without fear of persecution despite how close they were to mainland China. With Apple Daily gone, it's simply not the case anymore.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Emily Feng in Beijing.

Thanks so much.

FENG: Thanks, Audie.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.