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The Nikkei View

China's media crackdown in Hong Kong is beyond comprehension

The public's right to know is under attack as clock ticks on Apple Daily

Copies of Apple Daily on display at a newsstand in Hong Kong. The paper could cease operations in days unless its assets are unfrozen.   © Reuters

Hong Kong is on the verge of losing its freedom of speech and freedom of the press. 

Under the "one country, two systems" framework, the territory long served as a bridge between authoritarian China and the world, channeling valuable information between the two sides. But the sweeping national security law unilaterally imposed on Hong Kong last June has completely redrawn the landscape and threatens citizens' right to know.

We strongly protest this extraordinary repression of the media.

Apple Daily, the Hong Kong newspaper known for its criticism of the Chinese Communist Party, says it cannot continue publishing unless the authorities unfreeze its assets. It has already stopped updating financial news online.

Hong Kong authorities have barred banks from helping the paper, cutting off sources of operating funds.

With more Hong Kong media companies accepting investment from the mainland, and thus taking a more pro-Beijing stance, Apple Daily has essentially become the territory's last daily publication that clearly sides with the pro-democracy movement. Founder Jimmy Lai is in prison on charges related to pro-democracy protests from 2019. Police have seized many computers from Apple Daily journalists in a raid of its headquarters. Some executives of the media group have been arrested as well. 

Apple Daily is accused of publishing articles calling for sanctions on China and Hong Kong  in violation of a national security law -- a law that Beijing forced onto Hong Kong, bypassing the local legislature. In the nearly one year since the law took effect, the territory's political traditions -- from freedom and democracy to the separation of powers -- have come under threat, one after another.

Agnes Chow, a prominent activist imprisoned on charges related to unauthorized assembly, was recently released. But Joshua Wong and many others remain incarcerated. Activists who fled overseas, such as Nathan Law, cannot return home to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's annual vigil for the Tiananmen Square crackdown was canceled this year as the walls close in on the territory's pro-democracy movement.

The Group of Seven leaders heavily criticized China's actions at the recent summit, but it does not seem concerned. Beijing fails to acknowledge that its tightening vise on speech and the press, including in Hong Kong, lies at the heart of the global pushback against Beijing. Without dramatic change, Hong Kong stands to lose its competitiveness as an international business hub.

But we, as supporters of democracy, must not give up. A free and fair press protects the people's right to know, no matter the country or region.

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