The “forced closure” of a Hong Kong newspaper has been described as “a chilling blow to freedom of expression” by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
The pro-democracy Apple Daily announced on Wednesday that it will close by the weekend after police arrested five editors and executives and froze $2.3m (£1.65m) in assets linked to the paper.
The board of directors said in a statement that the paper’s print and online editions will cease no later than Saturday due to “the current circumstances prevailing in Hong Kong”.
It comes amid increasing tensions over China’s national security law for the territory.
Police cited more than 30 articles published by the paper as evidence of an alleged conspiracy to impose foreign sanctions on Hong Kong and China.
So far, more than 100 people have been arrested under the law.
Raab said: “The forced closure of Apple Daily by the Hong Kong authorities is a chilling blow to freedom of expression in Hong Kong.
“It is crystal clear that the powers under the national security law are being used as a tool to curtail freedoms and punish dissent – rather than keep public order.
“The Chinese government undertook to protect press freedom and freedom of speech in Hong Kong under the UK-Sino Joint Declaration. It must keep its promises, and stand by the commitments it freely assumed.”
The Joint Declaration was supposed to guarantee Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy for 50 years following the handover of the territory by Britain to China in 1997.
Chinese state media has previously dismissed the treaty as a “historical document” which had been “invalid and expired” for a long time.
It was the freezing of assets that caused the paper’s demise and, earlier this week, its board of directors wrote to Hong Kong’s security bureau requesting the release of some of its funds so the company could pay wages.
Chinese and Hong Kong officials have said the media must abide by the law, and that press freedom cannot be used as a “shield” for illegal activities.
Last week, Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, who is shadow Asia and Pacific minister, said: “Democracy and the ‘one country, two systems’ principle are being steadily crushed.
“The UK must stand up to these efforts to silence the people of Hong Kong. It is time for the UK Government to sanction Carrie Lam and other senior officials responsible for the crackdown, and withdraw support for British judges serving in Hong Kong’s compromised legal system.”
Hong Kong democracy activist Nathan Law, who was granted asylum in the UK in April and says he is “exiled in London”, tweeted: “This is one of the most disgusting attacks on press freedom. Apple Daily is murdered by the Chinese Communist Party because it supports democratic movement.”
Picture: Reuters/Lam Yik