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Hong Kong pro-democracy paper unable to pay staff

Apple Daily has long been a thorn in Beijing's side with caustic criticism of China's authoritarian leaders

AFP, Hong Kong

AFP, Hong Kong

Published: June 21, 2021 04:23 AM GMT

Updated: June 21, 2021 04:26 AM GMT

Hong Kong pro-democracy paper unable to pay staff

A supporter of two executives from Hong Kong's pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, chief editor Ryan Law and CEO Cheung Kim-hung, holds up a copy of the newspaper during a protest outside court in Hong Kong on June 19. (Photo: AFP)

Hong Kong's pro-democracyApple Daily newspaper has warned it is unable to pay staff and is at imminent risk of closure after the government froze the company's assets using a sweeping new national security law.

Apple Daily has long been a thorn in Beijing's side with unapologetic support for the city's pro-democracy movement and caustic criticism of China's authoritarian leaders.

Its owner Jimmy Lai is in jail and was among the first to be charged under the security law after its imposition last year. Its chief editor and CEO have been detained and its finances frozen.

Mark Simon, an aide to Lai, said the freeze order by the city's security chief last week had crippled the newspaper's ability to do business.

"Our problem at Apple Daily is not that we don't have funds, we have $50 million dollars in the bank," he told CNN on June 21.

"Our problem is the secretary of security and the police will not let us pay our reporters, they will not let us pay our staff, and they will not let us pay our vendors. They have locked up our accounts."

On June 17, more than 500 police officers raided the paper's newsroom and arrested five executives

Lai, 73, is in prison for attending democracy protests in 2019. He faces a life sentence if convicted of national security crimes.

On June 17, more than 500 police officers raided the paper's newsroom and arrested five executives over a series of articles that police said called for international sanctions.

Two of those executives — chief editor Ryan Law and CEO Cheung Kim-hung — have been charged with "colluding" with foreign forces to undermine China's national security and were remanded into custody over the weekend.

The operation was the first time political views and opinions published by a Hong Kong media outlet have triggered the security law.

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But it is the use of the law's powerful financial freezing tools that looks set to permanently put Apple Daily out of commission.

The law, written in Beijing and imposed on Hong Kong last June, allows authorities to freeze assets of any individual or company in the international business hub that is deemed to be a security threat. It does not require a court order.

Last month Lai's personal assets in Hong Kong and his media company shares were frozen.

On June 17, Secretary for Security John Lee said a further HK$18 million (US$2.3 million) of Apple Daily's company assets had now been blocked.

Simon is himself wanted by Hong Kong police on national security charges

"These are all orders from basically the secretary of security. We are facing a security agency, we are not facing courts," Simon told CNN.

Simon is himself wanted by Hong Kong police on national security charges but left the city last year and has since relocated to the United States.

In its own reporting over the weekend, Apple Daily said it was planning to ask Lee to unfreeze some money so that it can pay some 700 employees.

If the application is unsuccessful, they plan to go to court, the paper added.

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