Hong Kong's Free Press Is 'Hanging by a Thread.' Supporting It Is the People's Latest Act of Protest.

Hong Kong residents hold up Apple Daily's Tuesday newspaper in protest.
Hong Kong residents hold up Apple Daily's Tuesday newspaper in protest. (Getty)

As protests are banned and activists are arrested, Hong Kong residents are finding new ways to stand in solidarity against China’s crackdown: buying newspapers. Following the arrest of media mogul Jimmy Lai for suspected collusion with foreign forces, according to the new national security law, the people of Hong Kong rallied behind the tabloid newspaper he founded, Apple Daily, by purchasing copies in droves.

Some residents lined up in front of convenience stores to purchase the newspaper in the early morning hours following the police search on Apple Daily’s newsroom. Others purchased the paper in bulk, emptying newspaper racks and leaving stacks in public places for people to take.

The daily publication, which normally prints around 70,000 copies a day, planned on printing 350,000 copies, but ended up printing 500,000 copies by end of day Tuesday due to high demand. “We would have bought a blank Apple Daily paper today,” a 55-year-old resident, who woke up early to purchase a copy of the paper, told The Guardian.

Another told the Associated Press shortly after buying her own copy, “I do not like the way Apple Daily reports news, but I think it symbolizes press freedom in Hong Kong. I cannot just sit and watch the government destroy press freedom. This is the least I can do.”

Others supported the paper by buying stock in Next Digital, the parent media company of Apple Daily, also owned by Lai. It owns other publications both in Hong Kong and nearby Taiwan. On the Monday following Lai’s arrest, the share price of Next Digital reached a six-year high, rising more than 300%. By Tuesday afternoon, the share price rose another 500% from the previous day’s closing price.

One of the major buyers was Stanley Wong, a columnist at Apple Daily, who purchased more than 1 million shares of Next Digital, despite calling the move “irrational” since the Chinese government could suspend its trading and confiscate shares under the highly criticized national security law, Hong Kong Free Press reported.

The call to purchase Apple Daily newspapers comes following a police raid of their newsroom, which was live streamed by Apple Daily, then later described by its parent company as “breaching press freedom through intimidation.”

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“Raiding a news institution is a severe attack on press freedom and should not be tolerated in a civilized society. The regime believes that we will be silenced by intimidation and harassment, and that they can take an international city down the path of autocracy,” read an editor’s note by Next Digital Limited. “Hong Kong’s press freedom is now hanging by a thread, but our staff will remain fully committed to our duty to defend the freedom of the press.”

The paper also featured a column that read only “You can’t kill us all,” in a stark English message that contrasted against the rest of the Chinese-language articles.

The issue comes after one that's headline read simply, "Apple Daily will fight on," released following Lai's arrest. The publication has also faced months of advertiser boycotts for its pro-democracy coverage. 

Since the passing of the controversial national security law that went into effect July 1, which Amnesty International calls “dangerously vague and broad,” China has been suppressing all hopes of the 2019 pro-democracy protests. Lai, who has personally criticized the CCP in the past, as well as heads a company outspoken on pro-democracy ideals, and his two sons have been arrested. Lai has since been released on bail. 

And 23-year-old Agnes Chow was the latest to be taken into custody.

Chow, who gave up her British second citizenship to run for Hong Kong office in 2018, was arrested Monday, leading to a Twitter-wide call to #FreeAgnes. Chow was arrested from her apartment Monday evening and was released on bail late Tuesday on the condition she surrender her passport. “Among the many times I have been arrested, this has been the scariest experience of all,” she said as she addressed crowds after making bail.   

Journalist Wilson Li, a Hong Kong-native, was also arrested in the latest sweep. He was photographed with a case of Coca Cola when he was released on bail, and joked that that was his first priority. 

Arrest warrants were also issued for several activists who have since moved overseas, including U.S. citizen and resident Samuel Chu and 27-year-old former pro-democracy campaigner Nathan Law, who fled Hong Kong and cut ties with family to live in London.

Several pro-democracy activists were also barred from running in the city’s legislative election before officials ruled to postpone elections altogether. Chinese lawmakers cited the coronavirus pandemic for the decision, and have extended the term of Hong Kong’s governing body for a year.

Many others were also arrested before the passing of the national security law, including 81-year-old barrister Martin Lee, who was arrested in April for his role in the 2019 protests.

“I have not given up,” Lee told Inside Edition Digital in an earlier interview. “My philosophy is that so long as I’m still there fighting, I cannot lose.”

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