The last day of operations for Apple Daily, the pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper which published its last issue on Thursday (24) after a year of pressure from Beijing and its controversial national security law, was marked by a attempt to preserve the legacy of the tabloid that has so annoyed the Chinese authorities.
Journalist Yau Ting-leung, 23, three years younger than the newspaper he worked for last year and which he considered “the dream job,” told Reuters news agency that he could barely sleep the night before his last day in the editorial office.
A younger member of the Apple Daily investigative team, Yau ignored a statement from management urging reporters to stay home and returned to the building that houses the newspaper – the same building where there is a week, more than 500 police officers raided the newsroom, arrested executives. and seized dozens of computers and phones used by journalists.
“I didn’t have anything to write today [quarta, 23]. I was tasked with safeguarding our work, including our award-winning reports, ”said Yau, who was unable to complete the task. “No matter how hard I tried to make safe copies. There just wasn’t enough time. “
The last post was scheduled for Saturday (26), but after the arrest on Wednesday of one of Apple Daily’s top columnists for conspiracy, the editorial staff decided to make Thursday’s edition the last of over 9,500. newspaper editions.
A few yards from Yau, special editor Norman Choi, 51, was working on a final article: the Apple Daily obituary. Surrounded by the 22-year-old mess of the newspaper, which included cookie wrappers and empty liquor bottles, Choi wore a black face mask that matched the color of his clothes, as if in mourning.
Deputy editor Chan Pui-man was among five cadres arrested during the police operation. Released on bail, she toured the Apple Daily press room with red eyes. “It’s hard to control our emotions.”
As news of the newspaper’s impending closure spread, the small staff – most of the staff had resigned in the past week – could see and hear groups of supporters gathering outside the building.
Around midnight, the first copies of the last edition – which had an exceptional circulation of 1 million copies – rolled off the presses and were distributed to the applause of the crowd.
Photographer Harry Long and his team didn’t have to go far to get the image on the front page. They chose a photo taken from the newsroom floor that shows an employee waving to people and cars in the normally quiet street after the headline “In the rain, the Honcongues say goodbye sadly”.
“I’m heartbroken,” Long said. Journalist Yau also turned on his cell phone light towards the crowd ahead of the series of hugs between colleagues who would soon be leaving the paper for good.
“We were going to start crying all of a sudden because we couldn’t bear to see that ending,” Yau said. “But at the same time, we were also happy to have been able to work together on this last day.”
For editor-in-chief Choi, public support was emotional and the highlight of his Apple Daily career. “This is the first time that so many readers have come to support us here. And I know it is the last time too.”
The feeling of some employees was also a feeling of outrage. “I am very disappointed and angry today,” said Dickson Ng, 51, designer at Apple Daily. “I do not understand why we would have to stop operating under these circumstances. After today, there is no more freedom of the press and I do not see a future in Hong Kong.”
Newspapers, stacked and loaded onto trucks in vans, were taken to newsstands across Hong Kong. Hundreds of people lined up to get the latest historic edition.
“I haven’t been able to sleep well the last few nights,” said Tse, 60, a retired health worker, as she waited her turn to buy the newspaper in the working-class district of Mong Kok. . “
In the notebook, a farewell text from Chan, the deputy editor, read: “When an apple is buried underground, its seed becomes a tree full of bigger and prettier apples. I love Hong Kong and you. all to stop ever. “
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Thursday Jimmy Lai, owner of Apple Daily and fervent critic of Beijing, faces negative consequences for exercising his human rights . For her, the Hong Kong National Security Law, used as a justification for the police operation in the newspaper, leads local journalists to practice “self-censorship” in order to avoid friction with “vaguely worded offenses” in the newspaper. the legislation.
Lai is currently serving a prison sentence for participating in protests against the Chinese regime considered illegal in Hong Kong. The media mogul and Apple Daily executives arrested last week are also charged with colluding with foreign forces, one of the practices the National Security Law seeks to curb – in addition to subversive activity, secession and terrorism.
In a statement, China’s Foreign Ministry said Hong Kong is a rule-of-law society, where “no one or no organization is above the law.” “All rights and freedoms, including freedom of the press, cannot cross the line of national security.”
The law also provides that authorities in Hong Kong are free to request the blocking or removal of Internet content if they believe it is breaking the rules. The HKChronicles website, for example, has been blocked for providing information about protests against the regime.
In an attempt to protect Apple Daily’s legacy, cyber activist groups began backing up newspaper information before it was removed from the Internet. The platform used, which describes itself as a “collectively owned hard drive that you never forget,” breaks each digital file into chunks shared by an open network of computers around the world.