A Hong Kong court on Wednesday ordered the liquidation of the parent company of Apple Daily, delivering another blow to the pro-democracy newspaper after the local edition was shuttered in a crackdown on dissent.
Apple Daily closed down in Hong Kong earlier this year after its assets were frozen using a national security law that China imposed on the city, but it continues to publish in Taiwan.
Its owner, media tycoon Jimmy Lai, and multiple executives have been detained and charged with collusion for outspoken articles and columns the paper published.
In September, the Hong Kong government made the rare move of applying to dissolve the paper’s parent company, Next Digital Limited, saying it would be “expedient in the public interest”.
High Court judge Jack Wong on Wednesday granted the government’s request after a brief hearing that was not contested by Next Digital.
It is unclear how the court order will affect Apple Daily’s edition in Taiwan, which continues to operate as a financially independent subsidiary. Next Digital’s Taiwan offices did not respond to requests for comment.
But Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council — which deals with China relations — issued a statement saying it was concerned that the liquidation of the parent company in Hong Kong could lead to “improper use” of Taiwan Apple Daily employee and news databases.
“If relevant parties try to stick their ‘black hands’ into Taiwan in an attempt to violate the freedom and human rights, relevant agencies will take necessary actions in accordance with the law to protect public welfare and interests,” the statement said.
Taiwan’s government has criticised Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong and quietly allowed some residents, including a famous dissident book publisher, to resettle there.
– National security charges –
Lai, 74, and multiple Apple Daily executives face up to life in prison if they are convicted on charges of colluding with foreign forces for coming out in favour of sanctions against China.
Lai is already serving jail sentences linked to his attendance at democracy protests in recent years.
On Monday, he received an additional 13-month jail sentence for attending a vigil last year commemorating victims of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown — an event Hong Kong authorities banned on public health and security grounds.
Questions remain over the future of Apple Daily’s Taiwan edition after Bloomberg reported that the operation was strapped for cash and will close before the end of the year.
Apple Daily Taiwan dismissed the report as “speculation” and said it had no further comment.
Taiwan media reported that the court-appointed provisional liquidator for Next Digital has approached Apple Daily’s Taiwanese unit to ask about its assets.
Authorities have moved to rein in press freedoms in Hong Kong as Beijing remoulds the city in its own image, following huge and often violent democracy protests two years ago.
Earlier this month, the World Association of News Publishers awarded its annual press freedom prize to Apple Daily’s staff and its founder Lai.
The association lauded the paper as a “symbol of pro-democracy and public dissent” and said Lai was an outspoken critic of Beijing’s control over Hong Kong.
The award recognises and reflects on “the jailing of a publisher, the arrest of an editor-in-chief and his senior colleagues, the shuttering of a newsroom, and the closure of a media title”, organisers said.