In what could mark the true end of the democratic era in Hong Kong, the city’s largest and last surviving pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, announced its closure Wednesday after its headquarters were raided by authorities, its top editors arrested, and its assets frozen. The paper said it will cease operating—digitally and in print—at midnight making Thursday’s paper its final print edition. The 26-year old paper that made a name for itself doing what newspapers are intended to do: holding government to account, skewering public officials, and challenging the Chinese Communist Party, has come under immense pressure since Beijing stepped up efforts to subsume the former British colony using a new national security law to quash dissent in the semi-autonomous city.
“The paper churned out stories on celebrity gossip and lurid scandals, as well as hard-hitting political news and analysis, always with a decidedly antigovernment slant and an irreverence antithetical to what the Communist Party would allow in the mainland,” the New York Times notes. “Even in the face of advertising boycotts, assaults on its journalists and firebomb attacks, the paper persevered and thrived, living proof of the freedoms Hong Kong enjoyed despite its return to Chinese rule in 1997.”
But that all comes to an end less than a week after 500 police officers raided the publication’s newsroom alleging that the paper had printed more than 30 articles that violated the year-old national security provision, which makes it a crime to undermine the government. The arrests were made under the pretense of “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.” Officers seized journalists’ computers and arrested top editors. “Last week’s pictures of police sitting at reporters’ desks and footage of them loading vans with journalistic materials sent chills through the media in the former British colony,” Reuters reports. “The raid was seen as the most direct attack on Hong Kong’s freewheeling media since Beijing regained control of the city in 1997.”
The paper’s wealthy founder, Jimmy Lai, is already in jail following a similar raid in August of last year. After each raid, the paper dramatically increased its print run in defiance of the interference. Apple Daily printed 500,000 copies following the crackdowns, up from its normal 80,000, as people lined up at newsstands to buy copies to express their anger. The paper’s final print edition is expected to top 1 million copies.