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Media & Entertainment

Apple Daily to shut unless Hong Kong police release frozen funds

Board of Next Digital to decide Friday on closure of outspoken newspaper

Residents keen to show their support for Apple Daily bought extra copies last Friday and showed up for court Saturday when its editor-in-chief was brought before a magistrate.    © Reuters

HONG KONG -- Embattled Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily will cease to operate on Friday unless authorities unfreeze assets linked to the arrest of its top editors and executives, according to a decision by the board of its parent company announced to employees.

According to the internal memo seen by Nikkei Asia, parent company Next Digital has appealed to Hong Kong's Security Bureau to release 18 million Hong Kong dollars ($2.32 million) of assets of three group companies that were frozen last week after the arrest of Apple's editor-in-chief, Next's chief executive and three other managers under the city's national security law.

Next's board is to reconvene on Friday and has given the government a deadline to respond by 11:59 p.m. the same day. Failure to secure the funds would mean Saturday morning's edition would be the paper's last.

Hong Kong national security police last Thursday raided Apple's newsroom and Next's offices as well as the homes of the five managers arrested on allegations of "collusion with foreign forces." The allegations relate to some 30 articles that the authorities claimed called for the imposition of sanctions by foreign governments and organizations on Hong Kong or China.

While top Apple editor Ryan Law and Next Chief Executive Cheung Kim-hung remain in custody, the other three managers have been released. Apple founder Jimmy Lai, however, is serving a 20-month prison term in relation to three convictions for involvement in unauthorized demonstrations and faces possible life imprisonment over his charge of collusion.

The memo sent to staff late Monday afternoon told employees they can "resign immediately without notice," adding that the company cannot guarantee its ability to pay amounts due if the paper closes.

"We wish everyone can work until the end gloriously, but the risks are unpredictable," the memo said. "Stay or leave, it's your choice. For those who stay, let's try our best to finish our job to Apple's standard."

Asked about whether the authorities will release Next's frozen funds at a news conference Monday afternoon, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam walked away without responding.

By contrast, asked to comment about the situation at a separate online news conference, Chiu Tai-san, the Taiwan government minister for the island's Mainland Affairs Council, said that China's moves to "ceaselessly restrict freedoms of speech and the media, even going so far as to oppress and persecute them" were regrettable.

Shares of Next Digital have been suspended since last week's arrests.

The potential closure would come just ahead of the 24th anniversary of Britain's handover of Hong Kong to China on July 1. The date will also officially mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.

Additional reporting by Kenji Kawase

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