Hong Kong / Washington:

US President Joe Biden on Thursday called the closure of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily tabloid a “sad day for media freedom” and said it signaled “intensified crackdown” by China, while He promised to maintain support for the people of the territory ruled by China.

In a statement following the closure of the media outlet on Thursday, Biden called on Beijing to stop attacking the independent press and release the detained journalists and media executives.

“People in Hong Kong have the right to freedom of the press. Instead, Beijing is denying basic freedoms and attacking Hong Kong’s autonomy and democratic institutions and processes, inconsistent with its international obligations,” he said.

Apple Daily was forced to end a 26-year streak amid a national security offensive that froze company funds. Its closure sparked meandering lines of hundreds of loyal readers at newsstands across the city.

“It is a sad day for press freedom in Hong Kong and around the world,” Biden said, adding that the publication had been “a much-needed bastion of independent journalism in Hong Kong.”

“Through arrests, threats and the imposition of a National Security Law that penalizes freedom of expression, Beijing has insisted on exercising its power to suppress independent media and silence dissenting opinions,” he said.

BIDEN VOTE SUPPORT

Biden promised that the United States “will not waver in our support of the people of Hong Kong and all those who defend the basic freedoms that all people deserve.”

The shutdown deals the most serious blow to Hong Kong’s press freedom and could destroy the city’s reputation as a media hub after Beijing imposed security law on the financial center last year, say advocacy groups in Hong Kong. the media.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Thursday pointed to the “negative consequences” that she said Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai faced for exercising his rights, and criticized the mogul’s arrest.

Speaking at the Asia Publishers Society’s 2021 press award ceremony in Hong Kong, Bachelet said the national security law was leading journalists to “self-censor” themselves to avoid colliding with “vaguely formulated crimes.”

Lai has been in jail since December for unauthorized demonstrations during the massive pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019. He faces three national security charges, including collusion with a foreign country and is already serving several sentences for participate in unauthorized demonstrations.

Britain’s Foreign Minister Dominic Raab called on China to honor its commitments to free media under an agreement with Britain on how Hong Kong would be governed after its return from British rule to China in 1997. .

“We certainly see what has been happening with the closure of the Apple Daily and the arrest of journalists very, very seriously,” he said. “We ask China to abide by the terms that it freely signed and we believe this is a matter of trust as well as important to the people of Hong Kong.”

APOLOGETIC TABLOID

Apple Daily was an unapologetic tabloid that mixed pro-democracy speech with celebrity gossip and investigations of those in power. It had been a thorn in Beijing’s side.

Last year, before Biden won the US presidential election, he published two articles about his son Hunter Biden and his ties to a Taiwanese businessman who, according to the newspaper, was an alleged broker “who allowed the Hunter Biden deals in Mainland China for a decade. “

Lai said on Twitter in October that he personally “had nothing to do” with a report on Hunter Biden’s alleged business ties with China, but he admitted funds from his private firm and had been used to finance them.

ONE MILLION COPIES

Anticipating strong demand for its final print run, The Apple Daily printed 1 million copies, or more than 10 times the usual.

Emotions rose Thursday among supporters of the newspaper, which has faced relentless pressure since Lai’s arrest in August 2020.

“I couldn’t sleep well the last few nights,” said Tse, 60, a former medical worker, who leaned on a cart to support herself as she queued for a newspaper. “I hope the reporters can stay true to their faith and keep working hard.”

Some Apple Daily staff members expressed anger and frustration.

“(After) today, there is no freedom of the press in Hong Kong,” said Dickson Ng, 51, a designer at the newspaper. “I feel very disappointed and angry.”

Last week, 500 agents raided the newspaper’s headquarters, reviewing reporters’ notes and other journalistic material in scenes that generated international condemnation.

Five executives were arrested and two, Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law and Cheung Kim-hung, were charged with conspiracy to collude with a foreign country and denied bail. On Wednesday, a newspaper columnist was also arrested under the national security law.

Hong Kong and Chinese officials have repeatedly said that media freedom is respected, but not absolute.

“Hong Kong is a society that has the rule of law … No one or no organization is above the law,” said a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry. “All rights and freedom, including freedom of the media, cannot go beyond the bottom line of national security.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)