Hong Kong’s Apple Daily unable to pay staff after assets freeze
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily warned on Monday (June 21) that it was unable to pay staff and risked an impending shutdown after the government froze the assets of the company using a sweeping new national security law.
Apple Daily has long been a thorn in Beijing’s side, with unwavering support for the city’s pro-democracy movement and harsh criticism from authoritarian Chinese rulers.
Its owner Jimmy Lai is in prison and was among the first to be charged under the Security Act after his imposition last year. Its editor and CEO have been arrested and its finances frozen.
READ: Hong Kong’s Apple Daily says it only has money weeks after asset freeze
Mark Simon, a collaborator with Lai, said the city security chief’s freeze order last week 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 in the bank,” he told CNN.
“Our problem is the Security Secretary and the police won’t let us pay our journalists, they won’t let us pay our staff, and they won’t let us pay our salespeople. They blocked our accounts.
Lam Man-chung, executive editor of Apple Daily, told AFP that the media group’s board is meeting on Monday.
Lai, 73, is in prison for participating in democracy protests in 2019. He faces a life sentence if convicted of crimes against national security.
READ: Apple Daily executives in Hong Kong denied bail under security law
Last Thursday, more than 500 police officers raided the newspaper’s newsroom and arrested five executives for a series of articles which police said called for international sanctions.
Two of those executives – editor-in-chief Ryan Law and CEO Cheung Kim-hung – were charged with “colluding” with foreign forces to undermine China’s national security and were remanded in custody over the weekend.
The operation was the first time that political opinions and opinions published by a Hong Kong media outlet triggered the security law.
But it is the use of the law’s powerful financial freeze tools that should put Apple Daily out of service for good.
The law, written in Beijing and enforced in Hong Kong last June, allows authorities to freeze the assets of any individual or company in the international business hub that is considered a security threat.
It does not require a court order.
READ: Crowds gather to hear two Apple Daily executives on national security charges
Last month, Lai’s personal assets in Hong Kong and the shares of his media company were frozen.
Then on Thursday, Security Secretary John Lee said an additional HK $ 18 million ($ 2.3 million) in the assets of the Apple Daily company had been stranded.
“These are all orders from the security secretary, we are facing a security agency, we are not facing the courts,” Simon told CNN.
Simon is himself wanted by Hong Kong police on national security grounds, but left the city last year and has since moved to the United States.
In its own weekend report, Apple Daily said it plans to ask Lee to release some money so it can pay some 700 employees.
If the request is unsuccessful, they plan to go to court, the newspaper added.