Hong Kong’s pro-democracy plea takes a painful farewell

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy plea takes a painful farewell


Hong Kong’s most vocal pro-democracy newspaper, ple Daily, printed its final issue Thursday after a stormy year in which its tycoon owner and other employees were arrested under a new national security law and his assets were frozen.

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Hong Kong’s most vocal pro-democracy newspaper, ple Daily, printed its final issue Thursday after a stormy year in which its tycoon owner and other employees were arrested under a new national security law and his assets were frozen.

The shutdown of the popular tabloid, which mixed pro-democracy views with celebrity gossip and investigations into those in power, marks the end of an era of media freedom in the China-ruled city, critics say.

“Thank you to all readers, subscribers, advertisers and Hong Kong residents for 26 years of immense love and support. Here we say goodbye, take care of yourself,” said the pro in an online article.

Hundreds of supporters gathered outside the ple Daily building Wednesday evening to show their support, sometimes in heavy rain, waving smartphone lights. Journalists came out on the balcony and answered on their own phones.

The last front page featured a photo of an employee waving to supporters with the caption, “Hong Kongers Take a Painful Goodbye in the Rain”.

A reporter present at the ple Daily editorial office saw dozens of journalists break into the chat after the final issue went to press, and some cried.

Reporter Alvin Chan went outside to give free copies to supporters and said, “I hope everyone can … continue to believe in our values.”

The pro, whose online version is also no longer updated, said it was printing a million copies of its last issue – more than ten times its normal print run.

Shortly after midnight, hundreds of people were already lining up at some kiosks waiting for delivery.

ple Daily’s support for democratic rights and freedoms has been a thorn in the side of Beijing since owner Jimmy Lai, a self-made tycoon who was smuggled into Hong Kong on a fishing boat from mainland China at the age of 12, started doing so in 1995.

It shook the region’s Chinese-language media landscape and became a champion of democracy on the fringes of communist China. Its demise leaves only a handful of small online outlets on this side of politics, including Stand News and Citizen News.

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Citizen News unions and six other media groups said they would wear black on Thursday in protest of the government’s “strike on freedom of the press”. The management of Citizen News and Stand News could not be reached for comment.

CHALLENGE FOR BEIJING

Ple Daily supporters defended it as a beacon of media freedom in the Chinese-speaking world. It repeatedly challenged Beijing’s authoritarianism and has been read by dissidents and a more liberal Chinese diaspora.

Lai, whose fortune has been frozen, has been in jail since December on charges of attending unauthorized gatherings on charges of protests for democracy.

Some rights groups, media organizations and Western governments have criticized the crackdown on the newspaper.

Hong Kong Prime Minister Carrie Lam said Tuesday that criticism of the raid in the newspaper sought to “embellish” acts that threaten national security. Chinese officials have condemned the criticism as meddling.

Hong Kong and mainland officials have repeatedly said that media freedoms are respected but not absolute.

ple Daily, published by Next Digital and employing hundreds of journalists, said in its online article that the decision to close was made “based on considerations for the safety of employees and manpower.”

Since the police raid, there have been mass resignations and entire departments have had to close.

Last week, the assets of companies associated with the newspaper were frozen and five executives were arrested. Police arrested a columnist on Wednesday on suspicion of conspiracy with foreign forces.

The management of Daily and Next Digital could not be reached for further comment.

In an interview with him on Monday, a Lai advisor said the Per would close “in a few days.”

The Pers newsroom was raided by around 200 police officers last August when Lai was arrested on suspicion of collusion with foreign forces, and by 500 police officers last week when the other executives were arrested.

INCREASED PRESSURE FLOW

On both occasions, the pro said he had increased his print run from the usual 80,000 to 500,000 the next day, and residents of the 7.5 million city consumed it before dawn.

The police action was the most direct attack on Hong Kong’s free running media since Beijing regained control of the city in 1997.

Hong Kong authorities said the moves against ple Daily were not aimed at the media industry or freedom of the press.

The security law imposed on the city last year was Beijing’s first big step to put Hong Kong on an authoritarian path.

Lam and other pro-Beijing officials said it restored stability after months of often violent pro-democracy protests.

The Taiwanese branch of ple Daily said it would continue to post online as its finances are independent.

ple Daily has come under increasing pressure from security laws since Lai was arrested last year.

Authorities said dozens of ple Daily articles may have violated the Security Act, the first case by authorities to target media coverage under the law.

Next Digital was kept afloat by loans from Lai. In May, it was reported exclusively that Hong Kong’s security chief had sent letters to branches of HSBC and Citibank threatening up to seven years in prison for doing anything with the billionaire’s account in the city.

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