Half a dozen of its journalists and executives have been arrested recently
The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Friday staged parallel protests outside the Chinese embassies in Paris and Berlin, holding funeral-style processions to denounce the “killing” of Apple Daily by the Hong Kong government.
The protests were also meant to raise alarm of the threats posed by the Beijing regime to press freedom globally.
Earlier this week, RSF submitted an urgent appeal asking the UN to “take all necessary measures” to safeguard press freedom in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong, once a bastion of press freedom, has fallen from 18th place in 2002 to 80th place in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index. The People's Republic of China, for its part, has stagnated at 177th out of 180.
Arriving at the Chinese embassy following a hearse, the RSF representatives in Paris staged a mock funeral procession, delivering a coffin and funeral flowers with a placard inscribed “Apple Daily (1995-2021).”
In Berlin, the RSF activists staged a parallel action, “burying” the daily newspaper, which was one of the last major independent Chinese-language media critical of the Beijing regime.
Two days prior, the Apple Daily announced that it must cease all operations from June 27, with the last print edition of its newspaper to be published on June 24, due to the government’s decision to freeze its financial assets, leaving the media outlet unable to pay their employees and suppliers.
RSF condemned the “killing” of the outlet perpetrated by Chief Executive Carrie Lam by order of Chinese President Xi Jinping, and called for the immediate release of all detained Apple Daily employees as well as the media outlet’s founder Jimmy Lai, an RSF 2020 Press Freedom Prize laureate.
“We have gathered today to raise alarm about the urgent risk of death to press freedom in Hong Kong. Democracies cannot continue to stand idly by whilst the Chinese regime systematically erodes what’s left of the country’s independent media, as it has already done in the rest of the country,” RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire told reporters gathered outside the Chinese embassy in Paris.
“Today’s funeral is for Apple Daily, but tomorrow’s may be for press freedom in China. It’s time for the international community to act in line with their own values and obligations and defend what’s left of the free press in Hong Kong, before China’s model of information control claims another victim.”
Deloire also called out China’s Ambassador to France Lu Shaye, who last week gave an interview labelling media critical of the Chinese regime a "media machine" and journalists criticising Chinese authorities as "mad hyenas."
Lu Shaye believes there is no need for a plurality of media: “With two or three groups and a few people, we can become the vanguard of the war of public opinion and we can coordinate this war well.”
Lu Shaye has previously been critical of French media, stating last year at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemics: “I'm not saying the French media always tell lies about China, but much of their reporting on China is not true.”
On Thursday, independent media watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists demanded immediate release of journalist Yeung Ching-kee and allowing all members of the press to work freely.
Officers from the Hong Kong Police Force’s National Security Department arrested Yeung, the lead editorial writer for the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, on Wednesday morning on suspicion of “conspiring to collude with foreign countries or foreign forces,” a crime under the national security law.
Yueng, who writes under the pen name Li Ping, was arrested from his home in the city’s Tseung Kwan O district. Convictions under the National Security Law can carry lifetime prison sentences, according to reports.
Next Digital Limited, which owns the Apple Daily, the same day announced that the newspaper will cease publication and shut down as of Thursday, as CPJ documented.
Last week, police raided the newspaper’s office and detained five of its executives, also for allegedly colluding with foreign powers.
Yeung has written more than a thousand columns for the newspaper, many of which are critical of Beijing’s crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy movement and press freedom, according to Apple Daily’s database.
On Wednesday, he published a column in the paper’s print edition asking Hong Kong’s intellectuals, media workers, politicians, and businesses to not cater to authoritarian powers.
CPJ emailed the Hong Kong police for comment, but did not immediately receive any reply.
Next Digital and Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai is currently in prison and on trial for alleged violations of the national security law, as CPJ has documented. In a separate case, Lai was sentenced on April 16 to 14 months in prison for allegedly organizing and participating in illegal demonstrations in 2019.
On June 21, the CPJ board announced that it will honour Lai with its 2021 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award.
On December 1, 2020, CPJ found that at least 47 journalists were imprisoned in China, making it the worst jailer of journalists worldwide for the second year in a row.