Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s second most popular daily newspaper and long thought by Chinese authorities to be a pro-democracy threat, will be forced to shut “in a matter of days” following the freezing of the company’s assets under China’s new national security law according to an adviser of Jimmy Lai
Jimmy Lai the businessman and media tycoon was jailed in April 2021 for his part in the pro-democracy assemblies in 2919, receiving two concurrent sentences of 12 and 8 months imprisonment, he faces other charges which could result in life imprisonment if found guilty. Jimmy Lai is accused of violating the Beijing-imposed national security legislation by requesting a foreign power to impose sanctions against China or the HKSAR between July 1 and December 1 2020.
The following timeline of events led up to this.
Apple Daily publishes its first edition on June 20 1995 – it was founded by businessman Jimmy Lai a highly successful fashion mogul. The paper was a tabloid daily, with its critical reporting on China, is a runaway commercial success.
“As long as readers choose us, support our journalism, and agree with our position, no matter how strong the pressure becomes, we will be able to stand tall,” the newspaper said in an editorial that day.
In 1994 Lai had called Chinese premier Li Peng the “son of a turtle egg” in a weekly magazine that he launched before the daily. The insult rankled Beijing.
July 8, 2019 – Jimmy Lai meets U.S. vice president Mike Pence and Security of State Mike Pompeo in Washington to discuss the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy over a contentious extradition bill that has sparked mass protests.
The China state-owned Global Times calls Lai a “traitor” for “brazen collusion” with the West to fuel the Hong Kong protests.
June 30, 2020 – China directly imposes national security law on Hong Kong without public consultation or city legislative involvement. The law sets out punishment for anything China considers subversion, secession, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces, of up to life in prison.
Aug 10 – Hong Kong police arrest Lai, one of the most outspoken critics of Beijing, and eight others in a city-wide operation. Hundreds of police raid Lai’s Next Digital headquarters, where his flagship Apple Daily is produced and published. He is released on bail.
Dec 3 – Lai is taken into custody and charged with fraud related to the lease of a building that houses Apple Daily.
Dec 11 – Lai charged under the security law on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces and endangering national security – partly from having sought sanctions against Hong Kong.
Dec 23 – Lai granted bail and is able to spend Christmas at home.
Dec 29 – Lai resigns as chairman of Next Digital.
Dec 31 – Lai is taken back into custody after a higher court overruled the bail decision following a wave of criticism by pro-Beijing voices who say he is a flight risk.
Feb 8, 2021 – Lai’s legal battle for bail reaches Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal. A panel of five judges unanimously denied him bail saying the lower court applied an “erroneous line of reasoning”.
April 12 – “Defending freedom of speech is a dangerous job. It is our responsibility as journalists to seek justice,” Lai writes from prison.
April 16 – Hong Kong police chief Chris Tang warns an unspecified newspaper for dividing society. He says “fake news” could be linked to national security and police may launch investigations into those who breach national security laws.
April 16 – On the same day, Lai is jailed for 14 months for taking part in unauthorised assemblies during protests in August 2019.
May 11 – Apple Daily’s chief editor Ryan Law and its CEO reassure staff over rumours Hong Kong authorities would shut the newspaper before July 1 – the centenary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.
May 14 – Hong Kong authorities freeze assets belonging to Lai, including all shares in Next Digital – the first time a listed firm has been targeted by national security laws in the financial hub. Lai now faces three charges under the security law including collusion with a foreign country.
May 27 – Reuters reports that Hong Kong’s security chief sent letters to Lai and branches of HSBC and Citibank in May, threatening jail of up to seven years for any dealing with the Lai’s accounts in the city.
May 29 – Lai receives a 14-month jail sentence over an unauthorised assembly in October 2019.
June 17 – Police arrest five executives of Apple Daily, including chief editor Ryan Law and CEO Cheung Kim-hung. Hundreds of officers raid Next Media’s headquarters and search its newsroom, seizing computers. Law and Cheung are charged with “colluding with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security”. Authorities freeze HK$18 million ($2.3 million) of Apple’s assets.
June 19 – Apple Daily’s CEO’s Ryan Law and Cheung Kim-Hung are denied bail by Judge Victor So.
June 20 – Apple Daily marks its 26th anniversary. The paper says it has cash left for “a few weeks” of normal operations and it may struggle to pay staff.
June 21 – An adviser to Lai tells Reuters News the newspaper will be forced to shut “in a matter of days”.
Below is the recently BBC “Our World” documentary on Jimmy Lai who was interviewed by BBC’s Danny Vincent.