Free Speech

Hong Kong's Free Press Is Dying

After Chinese authorities conducted newsroom raids and arrested top editors, pro-democracy publication Apple Daily realized it could no longer safely operate.


When Hong Kong's national security law was passed in June 2020, the law's many critics warned it would have a chilling effect that would lead to the death of free speech, the suppression of a free press, and the censorship of people deemed disloyal by the state. These fears have been sadly vindicated with a newsroom raid last week that ended with the arrest of some of Hong Kong's top journalists and one of the last bastions of pro-democracy thought shuttering its doors permanently.

Last Thursday, hundreds of cops raided the offices of one of Hong Kong's most committed and widely read pro-democracy publications, Apple Daily, and arrested the editor in chief and other top executives, as well as those at the publication's parent company, Next Digital. When arrests continued yesterday and authorities arrested one of the paper's top opinion writers, the publication announced it would be closing immediately, citing staff safety concerns and the inability to pay salaries due to bank accounts being frozen.

"Apple Daily continued to report on the raid even as police officers declared the newsroom a crime scene," The New York Times' Austin Ramzy and Tiffany May wrote. "When officers prevented the reporters from livestreaming the raid from inside the office and forced them to leave, the paper set up a camera on the building's roof that watched the operation from a distance. Once they were allowed to return to their seats, reporters whose desktop computers had been seized wrote articles on their mobile phones instead."

"The Chinese Communist Party and its National Security Law clearly view being Chinese and being frank about the current political system to be mutually incompatible, and are currently aiming to force this foreign dishonesty and unfreedom on the city of Hong Kong in the name of 'return,'" wrote former Apple Daily columnist Kevin Carrico on his Substack. "The results are, not to mince words, tragic for many who persist in being honest, critical, and free."

"From the moment the national security law was introduced, we knew this day would come," said Apple Daily columnist Jack Hazlewood to the BBC. "It's close to a thousand journalists who have lost their jobs, and for them to find employment in media jobs, jobs in journalism in Hong Kong is next to impossible….Why would anyone in their right mind want to employ someone who worked for any organization that was being essentially shut down under the national security law, let alone a newspaper, let alone the flagship pro-democracy newspaper."

"We're seeing sort of a creeping extension of the Great Firewall and the censorship that you see in mainland China." But, he said, "people are savvy and VPN use is widespread."

"If people in Hong Kong want to access information that is critical of the government, they are going to be able to do so, even though we are descending into kind of an Orwellian, 1984 situation," said Hazlewood.

Still, Hazlewood tells Reason that he fears "remaining pro-democracy news outlets like Stand News and Citizen News will just get picked off one by one." 

Hong Kong, which has operated under the "one country, two systems" policy following Britain's handover of the territory to China, has long enjoyed a robust culture of free speech and due process. China's attempt to bring Hong Kong more tightly under its control has provoked widespread protests in the past few years, with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people marching in the streets attempting to engage in mostly nonviolent resistance to preserve the freedoms they hold dear.

Earlier this year, I wrote:

"When a vague national security law was imposed in June, many Hongkongers feared it would give China cover to undermine the political freedoms they had long enjoyed. Since then, there have been steady, gradual encroachments: Public universities have culled dissident faculty members, police have arrested the pro-democracy media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai, and protesters who attempted to flee by boat to Taiwan have been sentenced to prison."

Lai, it's worth noting, founded Apple Daily in 1995 and developed a reputation as an iconoclastic media mogul unafraid of criticizing the Chinese government. That his publication is practically forced to shutter is a sign of just how much Hong Kong's political freedoms have atrophied, crushed under the thumb of the Chinese Communist Party.

More on Hongkongers' fight for freedom from Reason's Zach Weissmueller:

NEXT: This Cop Conducted 3 Warrantless Searches in Under 3 Years. He Gets To Keep His Job.

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  1. What do you suggest we do about this, Liz?

    Should we invade the mainland?

    Should we cut off all trade with China until they start caring about people?

    Should we draw a redline around Taiwan?

    Should Biden send Emperor Xi a sternly worded letter?

    Should we organize a consumer boycott?

    1. I’d love to see an answer to those questions, but even if she did it would likely be “my job is to write about stuff, not advise on issues of foreign policy.”

      [clicks on Amazon app to buy stuff made in the PRC]


        The journalists of Hong Kong should all have a legitimate case for asylum in the United States on the basis of persecution if they can find their way here, but the United States is probably an ironic place for journalists to seek refuge, right now, because they want to exercise their right to freedom of speech.

        They might do better in Dubai.

        1. What did that North Korean defector say? “If I wanted to be brainwashed I’d of just stayed home.”

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        2. Not sure if it was Liz Wolfe but I definitely remember a Reason writer arguing for giving refuge to people from Hong Kong. I don’t see anyone here arguing for anything else.

    2. We could do something really serious like kick them off Twitter.

    3. I’m sure you’ll get the answer to those when the R’s tell you what answers you should support.

      1. I thought this was about Chicoms, and the actual and violent suppression of free press in Hong Kong? And yet you play “whatabout” at every opportunity, almost as if you want to deflect from something…

      2. “I’m sure you’ll get the answer to those when the R’s tell you what answers you should support.”

        We’ve now got a response from the dishonest narcissistic asshole contingent.

      3. Now tell us how Fauci was right when he said that masks don’t work and also right when he said they do you bootlicking mindless 9/11 Truther sack of shit.

    4. Answer to #1 through #6:
      Even resorting to military force, we have no ability to effect change in Xi’s policies toward Hong Kong.
      We do have the ability to allow some of those folks to end up here, and they seem far more pro-freedom than quite a few of the commenters on this board

    5. We should suck Xi’s microchode and continue to give China MFN trade terms of course!

      And then we can pretend to be shocked – shocked! – when we find that China is a slave state and act like we ever gave a fuck.

    6. Meanwhile, the right to a trial by jury has been suspended “to protect the jurors”.

  2. The long term consequences of riding the dragon for too long.

  3. “Hong Kong, which has operated under the “one country, two systems” policy following Britain’s handover of the territory to China,”

    Britain was either stupid or simply looking for a rationale to give China the territory.

    Th “one country, two systems” was to my understanding NOT included in any official treaty / contract

    1. Similar to when the company you work for gets bought out by a bigger fish; it’s all happy talk, at first…

    2. Who didn’t see this coming, right from the start?

      I was accused of being an imperialist and racists clear back in 1997 when I suggested that it was better to be a subject of the crown in a British colony than a citizen of the PRC.

      Sometimes being right really, really sucks.

      So very sorry for the people of Hong Kong.

      1. Hey you don’t get off that easy; you’re still an imperialist, no matter what the Chicoms do!

        1. I can do better than that! I’ll be THE Emperor! But in my empire, there will be but one law: no person may initiate the use of force against another.

          1. That’d be nice, but people are primates, and primates have the capacity and not too infrequently the inclination for violence. Which leaves you and your subjects a limited option; either you or they will have to respond to those with a measure of violence yourselves, at least sufficient to keep them from fucking everyone else up.

            It’s just our nature, and that is not going to change. Problem is governments with armies…well, you get the picture.

            My personal recommendation for your constitution is to explicitly guarantee your citizens the right to self defense and access to commonly used weapons for that purpose; and put it as a negative right, something your government cannot grant nor take away, or infringe upon, under any circumstances.

          2. As Lao-Tzu posited in The Tao De Ching Verse 57:

            Tao Te Ching – Verse 57
            If you want to be a great leader,
            you must learn to follow the Tao.
            Stop trying to control.
            Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
            and the world will govern itself.
            The more prohibitions you have,
            the less virtuous people will be.
            The more weapons you have,
            the less secure people will be.
            The more subsidies you have,
            the less self-reliant people will be.

            Therefore the Master says:
            I let go of the law,
            and people become honest.
            I let go of economics,
            and people become prosperous.
            I let go of religion,
            and people become serene.
            I let go of all desire for the common good,
            and the good becomes common as grass.

            (translation by Stephen Mitchell, 1995)

            In the meantime, until that leader who lets go comes, Lao-Tzu also had wise words for those struggling for that day:

            “Those who talk, don’t know.
            Thise who know, don’t talk.”

      2. “I was accused of being an imperialist and racists clear back in 1997 when I suggested that it was better to be a subject of the crown in a British colony than a citizen of the PRC.”


    3. Yes, it was part of the official agreement that handed Hong Kong over to the PRC. The Chinese now claim otherwise, but it seems clear they are not correct. The British could probably make a case at the International Court of Justice to that effect. But the Chinese are not likely to obey an order from the ICJ directing them to change course anyway. So the question is whether it would be worth doing.

    4. The rationale was that the lease for the New Territories and most of Kowloon was going to run out in 1997. The boundary would have been Boundary Street).

      China had less than zero interest in being cooperative because the part that was ‘in perpetuity’ was the result of the Opium Wars. So either Hong Kong would have had to be turned into a military base with no financial investment and no economy – or Britain would have to go to war with China – or you make a deal with very little leverage.

  4. “…we are descending into kind of an Orwellian, 1984 situation,” said Hazlewood.”

    “kind of?” No, you’re there, comrade. Now just go an try to get a job at the Ministry of Truth [by the way, I see a broom and a litter bucket in your professional future].

  5. Hong Kong’s Free Press Is Dying

    It’s not ‘dying’, it’s being killed.

    There’s a difference.

  6. What is the author talking about? Didn’t they read the nyt artical about how the prc is just doing what needs to be done for the betterment of the people of Hong Kong?

    1. It’s all just part of taking your place in The Village.

  7. The solution is clear.

    Let’s trade the staffs of WaPo and NYT for the people who published the Apple Daily. This will let each of them live in the kind of country they are working to create.

  8. This is what you wanted. this is what you campaigned for. Enjoy it. The blood is on your hands.

    1. Did Liz Wolfe campaign for this? If so, where?

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  10. The US should grant easy access for “Hong Kongers” to imigrate to the US. Enterprising people should continue to report on the Government in China and it’s abuses.

  11. Hong Kong’s sole remaining pro-democracy newspaper published its last edition Thursday after five editors and executives were arrested and millions of dollars in its assets were frozen as part of China’s increasing crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous city.

    The board of directors of parent company Next Media said in a statement Wednesday that the print and online editions will cease due to “the current circumstances prevailing in Hong Kong.”

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