A Hong Kong police national security operation has forced the closure of the city’s most vocal and pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily. Its senior executives arrested, companies charged, and accounts frozen, the paper survived for less than a week after hundreds of officers raided the newsroom, accusing it of foreign collusion. Here a reporter from the 26-year-old paper describes the final days.
Thursday 17 June
I was woken up by a call from my colleague at 7am. I knew these early morning calls are never good, and I was right. He said five of our senior management had been arrested by the national security department, and, as we spoke, hundreds of police officers were at the gates of our office. “Not again,” I thought to myself. This routine – arrests followed by a raid – had already happened once, last August.
Our livestream was the first thing I turned to. Armed officers in uniform flooded our lobby, and soon our colleagues were ordered to wait outside the gates or in the canteen on the top floor. Even more troubling, the police claimed their warrant granted them power to search and seize journalistic materials. A direct attack at a news institution.
After the police left about five hours later, we rushed back to count our losses: at least 44 journalists’ computers were seized. Hardware can be replaced, but they also froze bank accounts, threatening operations and payment of wages. For the first time, the prospect of shutting down felt very real.
Saturday 19 June
By 8am I was queuing outside the West Kowloon magistrates’ court. Apple Daily’s chief executive Cheung Kim-hung and editor-in-chief Ryan Law were charged with “collusion with foreign forces”, a crime under the national security law. The others had been released on bail. Dozens of colleagues and ex-colleagues waited, some since 5am, for a seat inside to show support. I thought: two days ago I was supposed to have a meeting with Law, and now he is in the dock. Being there was all I could do.
We thought the judge would grant bail, but he didn’t, and gave no explanation. We waved at our colleagues. I could only say “Hang in there”. Barring a successful appeal, they’ll be behind bars until at least mid-August.
Monday 21 June
With accounts frozen, we headed to the office, expecting it would be our last day. The shuttle bus to the newsroom was silent, everyone swiping their phones for news.
The board of Next Digital was meeting in the afternoon to decide our fate. At 3pm the news came but it wasn’t what we expected. They postponed their decision to Friday, hoping the government would unfreeze our accounts. People were angry and confused. The main issue was the risk of more arrests, not frozen accounts. To drag this on did not make sense.
Some determined to stay on and work till the last minute. Others believed danger was imminent, and one more day at Apple Daily meant one more day at risk. There was an exodus. The finance news team stopped updating the website, and all the video editors resigned.
My news team was given two hours to decide. It was one of the most complicated decisions ever. We knew our editor wouldn’t leave even if even one reporter stayed, and many of us couldn’t live with leaving him behind. Most of us stayed. We focused on a special feature to give our paper a proper send-off.
Wednesday 23 June
Another police raid had been rumoured, and we were told to work from home. I was woken up by another call: the chief opinion writer for the China section had been arrested.
It can’t be proved, but most of us saw it as punishment for delaying the closure. The board called a meeting and announced Apple Daily would stop publication no later than Saturday. Editorial management pushed it even earlier: today would be our last. And, just like that, our newspaper was ended by a thuggish act by the government.
We rushed back. The end of Apple Daily was obviously the main focus, and every team worked to publish their special features two days earlier than planned. It was a hectic and emotional day in the newsroom, but professional.
At 10.30pm the photographers told everyone to go to the roof for a final drone shot. A crowd of about 100 passed through the rain to the edge of the roof. Down by our gates hundreds of people waved their phone lights, chanting supportive slogans. My colleagues shouted “Thank you” back at them. I could hardly hold back my tears.
In the final hour before midnight, those who had finished their work backed up as much content as possible before the website shut down and all content was erased, 26 years’ worth.
We worked until the literal last minute. The final news update was published at 11.55pm, and it was the resignation of our deputy publisher Chan Pui-man, arrested a week ago. As the front page was signed off by our executive editor, rounds of applause broke out for the senior editors who led us through this incredibly hard time.
Sadness was replaced by a sense of achievement. For once, there was no more news for us to work on; we embraced each other and took farewell photos in an almost graduation day-like mood. On the other side of the office, a record-breaking 1 million copies were being printed and would be sold the next day.
It would be painful for our bosses in jail to see their beloved newspaper cease publication, but from the support we got from the people of Hong Kong, I’d like to think we’ve done something right these last 26 years, and we handled its last days with dignity. Until we meet again.