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China dismisses concern for Hong Kong freedom after tabloid closure

Stock MarketsJun 25, 2021 06:51AM ET
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2/2 © Reuters. Staff members of Apple Daily and its publisher Next Digital pose with the final edition of Apple Daily at its headquarters in Hong Kong, China June 24, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu 2/2

By Sharon Abratique and Pak Yiu

HONG KONG (Reuters) -China's foreign ministry on Friday rejected comments by U.S. President Joe Biden that the closure of Hong Kong's Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) Daily newspaper signaled intensifying repression by Beijing in the semi-autonomous city.

Also on Friday, China approved the promotions of two officials in a move that critics said would further tighten Beijing's grip.

Hong Kong's security secretary John Lee was appointed chief

secretary - the first time a security specialist has taken the number two position in the territory since its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

Biden said on Thursday that Apple Daily's demise was a "sad day for media freedom". Other foreign officials also expressed concern that it represented a further stifling of freedoms in Hong Kong, a trade gateway and international financial center.

Apple Daily had been a thorn in Beijing's side, mixing pro-democracy discourse with celebrity gossip and investigations of those in power. It was forced to end a 26-year run after authorities froze the company's funds.

Its closure follows the imposition of a national security law last year in response to huge pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Hundreds of loyal readers lined up at newsstands across the city to buy last editions.

"I hope reporters can stay true to their faith and keep working hard," said Tse, 60, a former medical worker, as she queued for a paper.

Biden called on Beijing to stop targeting the independent press and to release detained journalists and media executives.

"People in Hong Kong have the right to freedom of the press. Instead, Beijing is denying basic liberties and assaulting Hong Kong’s autonomy and democratic institutions," he said.

Apple Daily had been "a much-needed bastion of independent journalism in Hong Kong," Biden said in a statement.

"Through arrests, threats, and forcing through a National Security Law that penalizes free speech, Beijing has insisted on wielding its power to suppress independent media and silence dissenting views," he said, vowing continued U.S. support for the people of Hong Kong.

China's foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian dismissed the criticism at a news conference in Beijing on Friday.

"The U.S. leader's position is factually baseless," Zhao said.

Officials in Hong Kong and China have repeatedly said media freedoms are respected but not absolute, and cannot endanger national security.

The shutdown deals the most serious blow yet to Hong Kong's media freedoms and could potentially destroy the city's reputation as a media hub, advocacy groups say.

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Thursday criticised the detention of Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai.

Speaking to the 2021 Society of Publishers in Asia press awards ceremony held in Hong Kong, Bachelet said the security law was leading journalists to self-censor to avoid clashing with "vaguely formulated offences".

Lai has been in jail since December over unauthorized rallies during the pro-democracy protests. He is facing three national security charges, including colluding with a foreign country and is already serving several sentences for taking part in unauthorized rallies.

British foreign minister Dominic Raab called on China to respect its commitments to free media under an agreement with Britain over how Hong Kong would be ruled after 1997.

ONE MILLION COPIES

In anticipation of big demand for its final print run, the Apple Daily printed one million copies, or more than 10 times its usual. Some staff expressed anger and frustration.

"(After) today, there is no press freedom in Hong Kong," said Dickson Ng, 51, a designer at the paper. "I feel very disappointed and angry."

Last week, 500 officers raided the newspaper's headquarters, sifting through reporters' notes and other material.

Five executives were arrested, and two - chief editor Ryan Law and Cheung Kim-hung - were charged with conspiracy to commit collusion with a foreign country and denied bail. On Wednesday, a columnist for the paper was arrested under the security law.

In the reshuffle, Police Chief Chris Tang took over John Lee's position as security secretary following Lee's promotion to chief secretary.

Known for his hawkish stance, Lee had spearheaded the city’s

disciplinary forces, including the police, in the crackdown that has seen mass arrests of democratic activists and politicians.

"The promotion of John Lee and Chris Tang completes the

swift and total transformation of Hong Kong into a police

state," said Samuel Chu of the Hong Kong Democracy Council.

China dismisses concern for Hong Kong freedom after tabloid closure
 

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Comments (11)
John Avenetti
John Avenetti Jun 24, 2021 3:38AM ET
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it's a worldwide push for control led by communist principals and if the people don't fight back soon. the whole world will be enslaved soon enough
Jason Zou
Jason Zou Jun 24, 2021 3:38AM ET
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Terrorism in the form of misinformation.
Hung Pham
Hung Pham Jun 24, 2021 2:42AM ET
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The US are full of fake news working for the elites
Star Boi
Star Boi Jun 24, 2021 2:29AM ET
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The fact is, the CCP can't have some Chinese living with freedoms the rest of China only dream about. So, this must be crushed and soon as the bridges erected to connect mainland Chinese the plan to further the propaganda machine was in effect. The rationale that this is a security issue is moot, because people are fighting for their security from an dictatorial oppressive regime who wish to brainwash its citizens into believing their brand of success is achieved with an iron fist. They're slaves. Thus this rubbish logic in such a statement: "I want to emphasize, Hong Kong is a society that has rule of law. Everyone is equal in front of the law, no one or no organization is above the law," a spokesperson for the ministry said. "All rights and freedom, including media freedom, cannot go beyond the bottom line of national security." No one can question the state, there are no other voices that can be heard. NONE!
Gabriel Watson
Galaxybane Jun 23, 2021 11:54PM ET
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2021: Censorship now rebranded as "National Security Crackdown"
David David
David9 Jun 23, 2021 11:54PM ET
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No, censorship is way different... this law spells out exactly what is national security... things like colluding with outside forces, disruption of public property, etc...
Jason Zou
Jason Zou Jun 23, 2021 11:54PM ET
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Look no further than USA!
Notvery Goodathis
Peteymcletey Jun 23, 2021 11:39PM ET
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Am I the only one wondering why they tagged Apple stock? Apple daily has nothing to do with them.
David David
David9 Jun 23, 2021 10:50PM ET
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This is good for the Hong Kong people. Millions want this to be gone. This was a propaganda machine and Hong Kong should be reborn and rejuvenated with vitality...
Star Boi
Star Boi Jun 23, 2021 10:50PM ET
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China Shill Alert! Was it the PLA or CCP that pay you cash for comment?
John Avenetti
John Avenetti Jun 23, 2021 10:50PM ET
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go take another dose of the vaccine you sheep
Jason Zou
Jason Zou Jun 23, 2021 10:20PM ET
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Secessionists should leave HK, to any places that love secession.
Joel Schwartz
Joel Schwartz Jun 23, 2021 10:20PM ET
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If you love your country you stay and fight to fix it. People always say “just leave then,” and completely miss the point.
Sean Livingstone
Sean Livingstone Jun 23, 2021 10:20PM ET
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Country as in China?
Jason Zou
Jason Zou Jun 23, 2021 10:20PM ET
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Sean Livingstone Your IQ is negative, isn’t it? Secessionist countries must be big, right? Pity soul!
king michael
king michael Jun 23, 2021 9:47PM ET
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US and EU countries should give citizenship to every Hongkong resident immediately. It is time to show our determination of supporting freedom and human right.
David David
David9 Jun 23, 2021 9:47PM ET
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Remember last year UK offer that? Only a few want to leave... HK today is full of new energy... Just saw Joe Tsai's interview the other day and he said HK is much safer now...
William WANDD
William WANDD Jun 23, 2021 9:46PM ET
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Tyranic act of Chinese Communist Party, definitely sorry for its past glory of freedom and democracy, so sorry for the hong kong people.
Hank Reardon
Hank Reardon Jun 23, 2021 9:44PM ET
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Coming to a western country near you.
Al Gore
Al Gore Jun 23, 2021 9:34PM ET
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as if Xi cares lol
 
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