The board of the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily is in crisis talks amid expectations that it could close within days after the arrest of its top editors and executives, and the freezing of its assets and accounts.
According to Mark Simon, a close adviser to the newspaper’s jailed owner Jimmy Lai, the board was holding its fourth meeting in as many days on Monday morning, seeking urgent information to make assessments about the future of the newspaper.
“The only thing that matters is that the security secretary has blocked all the accounts and any possibility of working with the accounts, so no money equals no news,” he told The Guardian.
National security officials have blocked access to the company’s accounts, leaving it unable to pay staff and vendors, or accept funds, he said.
He told Reuters: “We thought we could make ends meet. It is getting more and more difficult. It’s essentially a matter of days. “
Apple Daily said Sunday that its asset freeze had left the liberal newspaper with cash for “a few weeks” for normal operations. “
Lam Man-chung, CEO of Apple Daily, confirmed to AFP that the board of the media group will meet on Monday.
On Thursday morning, a national security police operation involving hundreds of officers raided the homes of five executives, including Apple Daily editor-in-chief Ryan Law, and arrested them under national security law, before to raid the newsroom with an unprecedented order allowing the seizure of journalistic material.
Police also froze HK $ 18 million (US $ 2.3 million) in assets of three companies, Apple Daily Limited, Apple Daily Printing Limited and AD Internet Limited. Simon said there was an additional $ 500 million in blocked accounts. He said the process to request the unfreezing of the assets would take weeks.
Law and the company’s chief executive, Cheung Kim-hung, were indicted on Friday, charged with conspiring with foreign or external forces, and denied bail. The three companies connected to Apple Daily are also being prosecuted for the same crimes.
Simon, who has since moved to the United States, is wanted by the Hong Kong police under national security law. Law faces life in prison.
On Sunday, Apple Daily said the asset freeze had left the company with enough cash for just a few weeks of normal operations and also affected staff payroll.
Police said the operation and the charges were related to more than 30 articles published in the newspaper since 2019, even though the non-retroactive law came into effect only in 2020, which allegedly called for foreign sanctions against the governments of Hong Kong and China.
The police operation is a significant escalation in government moves to stifle the Hong Kong press, of which the pro-democracy tabloid was widely regarded as a prime target. Lai has been in jail since December, on charges related to protests and awaiting trial on national security charges, including alleged foreign collusion.
In an editorial published Monday, Apple Daily said the impact of the raid and the arrests and charges of its leaders had been “enormous” on the daily operations of the newspaper.
“Large-scale searches and arrests by the police have caused psychological distress, and journalists are far more concerned about stepping on the red line while doing their daily reporting work,” he said.
“The aftermath of the searches and arrests have not been resolved, and political and legal pressure will continue to mount.”
He said the use of the court order to seize around 40 journalists’ computers was a warning to the rest of the Hong Kong media.
“The police were able to obtain news information that was originally confidential, which means that journalists and news organizations can no longer effectively protect confidential information, and the identities of ‘whistleblowers’ could easily be revealed,” he said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism