In an internal memo to media mogul Jimmy Lai’s flagship newspaper, an editor said online news would stop at 11:59 p.m. Friday night and the final print edition would be distributed on Saturday if funds remained frozen. At a staff meeting, officials offered to allow journalists to resign immediately, according to people familiar with the situation who asked not to be named.
“In theory, if the company decides to close on Friday and Fire employees, there may be an additional month’s payment in lieu of notice, but no one can guarantee it, ”the memo seen by Bloomberg News reads. “Management’s wish is for everyone to stay until the end, but the risks are unpredictable. Everyone has to make their own decisions. “
Apple Daily representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hong Kong national security officials are blocking the newspaper’s bank accounts, and the newspaper may have to shut down its print and digital operations unless authorities allow access to the funds, Mark Simon said on Monday, one of Lai’s main advisers. Companies that do regular business with the newspaper attempted to deposit money into its accounts on Friday but were prevented from doing so, he said.
The newspaper had around 521 million Hong Kong dollars ($ 67 million) in cash at the end of March and said it was able to continue operating for 18 months from April 1 without no new injection of funds from Lai, according to an exchange file. Trading in Next Digital shares is suspended.
Simon said the authorities’ decision to block access to this money effectively shut down the business. “It’s the government that decides whether Apple Daily stays or goes,” he said. “Once they get rid of us, who’s next?” “
Apple Daily lacks funds to print Hong Kong newspaper
Hong Kong’s moves to arrest Lai and target the Apple Daily editorial staff have alarmed foreign governments and human rights groups, who say China and Beijing-backed local administration are undermining freedoms constitutionally guaranteed in the Asian financial center.
Hong Kong police on Thursday arrested five senior executives of the media organization and froze HK $ 18 million in company assets. About 500 police officers descended on Apple Daily headquarters, ransacking offices, banning journalists from their desks and taking nearly 40 computers belonging to the newsroom.
Some teams have already told part-time staff, including interns, that there is no need to show up at the office or continue working for the newspaper, according to three reporters and editors who asked not to not be identified. Some staff were planning to leave for other jobs after Thursday’s raid, they said, adding that they feared companies or the media would hire anyone who worked for the newspaper.
The newspaper, which applauded the unprecedented pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019, has come under increasing pressure since China imposed a national security law on the city last year.
Lai, a media mogul and well-known democracy advocate, is in prison for attending unauthorized protests. The city security bureau had previously frozen some of Lai’s assets and sent letters to some of his bankers, threatening them with several years in prison if they processed any of his Hong Kong accounts.
A Hong Kong court on Saturday refused bail for editor Ryan Law and Cheung Kim-hung, the newspaper’s publisher and chief executive of Next Digital. Other people arrested included COO Royston Chow and Apple Daily deputy editors Chan Pui-man and Cheung Chi-wai.
The United States called for the immediate release of the detained editors, while Human Rights Watch said the arrests represented “a new low in a bottomless attack on press freedom.”
In a statement, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong said it was “concerned that this latest move will serve to intimidate independent media in Hong Kong and put a chill on the free press,” which is guaranteed by the mini city press. constitution, the Basic Law.
Simon, Lai’s adviser, said the government’s actions against Apple Daily tarnished Hong Kong’s image as an international financial center where information can flow freely and fundamental freedoms are protected.
“You can’t limit what the average person considers normal journalism and expect to run an international financial center,” he said. “’No free press’ is a direct correlation with ‘no free market’, which is tantamount to not being an international financial center. “
– With the help of Natalie Lung and Alfred Liu
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