The U.S. and allies including Germany, Japan and the U.K. criticized a crackdown by Hong Kong authorities on the outspoken Apple Daily newspaper and its staff.
In a joint statement issued Saturday by the 21-country “Media Freedom Coalition,” the governments condemned the use of a China-imposed National Security Law in Hong Kong to shut down the paper and arrest owner Jimmy Lai and staff. They expressed “strong concerns” about the closing and warned about the potential of increased media censorship if further legislation is passed.
“The use of the National Security Law to suppress journalism is a serious and negative step which undermines Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong,” according to the statement released by the U.S. State Department.
It called on Hong Kong and Chinese authorities to uphold press freedom “in line with China’s international legal obligations.”
The pro-democracy Apple Daily published its final edition on June 24 with people in Hong Kong rushing out to buy it in protest at the government crackdown. The paper said it had been forced to cease publication after its bank accounts were frozen and top editors arrested for violating Hong Kong’s national security law.
Apple Daily had built a 26-year reputation for hard-hitting investigations, unearthing the hidden wealth of high-ranking Chinese Communist Party leaders and exposing unethical practices of officials in Hong Kong. It was renowned for racy reporting and photos on entertainment, crime and celebrity gossip.
Lai, 73, has been jailed on charges linked to his backing for pro-democracy protests. His personal assets have been frozen, including shares in Apple Daily’s parent Next Digital Ltd.
The statement Saturday was signed by Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Slovakia, Switzerland, the U.K., and the U.S.