HONG KONG – Hong Kong’s embattled pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily reported Monday that its board of directors has asked authorities to unfreeze some assets so it can pay salaries and avoid labor violations, and that the board will meet again on Friday to decide if the newspaper will cease operations.
Police last week arrested five top editors and executives of Apple Daily under the city's tough national security law on suspicion of foreign collusion, searched its offices and froze $2.3 million worth of assets of three companies linked to the newspaper.
The arrests and freezing of assets came as Hong Kong authorities crack down on dissenting voices as Beijing tightens control over the territory in what critics say is an erosion of freedoms it promised the city for 50 years when the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997.
Apple Daily has been outspoken in defending Hong Kong’s freedoms, and in recent years has often criticized the Chinese and Hong Kong governments for limiting the city's democratic freedoms as well as constricting the rights of free speech and assembly not found on mainland China.
Apple Daily said in an article on its website on Monday that if its board decides on Friday to cease operations of the newspaper, its website could stop publishing as soon as early Saturday morning, and Saturday’s print edition of the newspaper would be its last.
An internal department memo sent to some employees at Apple Daily also stated that those who wish to resign immediately could do so.
Apple Daily said in an article on Sunday that it may challenge the decision to freeze its assets in court if the city’s Security Bureau denies its request.
The Security Bureau said it would not comment on the details of the case because legal proceedings were ongoing. It said endangering national security is a “very serious crime.”
“We handle such crimes according to the law, targeting at illegal acts, and invoke the power to freeze offense-related properties based on need and the law,” the bureau said in an English-language statement. “Secretary for Security will handle in accordance with the law any application related to the frozen property.”
Last week, police identified over 30 articles published by Apple Daily that they said played a “crucial” role in a conspiracy with foreign countries to impose sanctions against China and Hong Kong for undermining Hong Kong's autonomy.
The newspaper’s founder, media tycoon Jimmy Lai, was convicted earlier this year for his involvement in unauthorized assemblies and is currently in jail. Two of the five people arrested last week have also been charged with collusion with foreign countries.
The police operation against Apple Daily has drawn criticism from the U.S. and Britain, which say Hong Kong and Chinese authorities are targeting the city’s promised freedoms.
Chinese and Hong Kong officials have insisted that the media must abide by the law, and that press freedom cannot be used as a “shield” for illegal activities.