Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s sole remaining pro-democracy newspaper, said on Wednesday that it was closing after five editors and executives were arrested and its assets were frozen.
The paper will publish its last edition on Thursday due to “the current circumstances prevailing in Hong Kong,” parent company Next Media said in a statement.
The closure highlights Beijing's increasing crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous city that was long known for its freedom in comparison to mainland China.
After huge anti-government protests in 2019 shook the government, Beijing has imposed a strict national security law — used in the arrests of the newspaper's employees.
The paper's announcement coincided with the start of the city's first trial under the year-old law that is being closely watched as a barometer of how strictly the courts will interpret the legislation.
China also revamped Hong Kong's election laws to keep opposition voices out of the legislature.
What did Apple Daily stand for?
Apple Daily has in recent years come under increasing scrutiny over its pro-democracy stance.
Jimmy Lai, its founder, is facing charges under the national security law for foreign collusion and is currently serving a prison sentence for his involvement in the 2019 protests.
Apple Daily was founded in 1995 — just two years before Britain handed Hong Kong back to China — and initially was a tabloid known for celebrity gossip.
But Lai had also always portrayed the paper as an advocate of Western values and said it should “shine a light on snakes, insects, mice and ants in the dark," according to the paper.
It grew into an outspoken voice for defending Hong Kong’s freedoms not found on mainland China.
In recent years, it has often criticised the Chinese and Hong Kong governments for limiting those freedoms and reneging on a promise to protect them for 50 years after the city's handover to China.
While pro-democracy media outlets still exist online, it is the only print newspaper left of its kind in the city.
In a post on Instagram, the paper thanked its readers.
“Even if the ending is not what we want, even if it’s difficult to let go, we need to continue living and keep the determination we have shared with Hong Kong people that has remained unchanged over 26 years,” Apple Daily wrote.
The move against Apple Daily sparked criticism from the US, the EU and Britain.
“The forced closure of (Apple Daily) by Hong Kong authorities is a chilling demonstration of their campaign to silence all opposition voices,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a Twitter post.
“It is clearer than ever that the (national security law) is being used to curtail freedom and punish dissent.”