China on Friday rejected United States President Joe Biden’s remarks that the closure of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper showed “intensifying repression” by Beijing in the semi-autonomous city, Reuters reported.
The pro-democracy newspaper published its last edition on Thursday after five editors and executives were arrested under a new national security law and millions of dollars in assets were frozen. Last year, China’s ruling Communist Party passed the national security law to punish anything the authorities deem to be subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The police cited over 30 articles published by the paper as evidence of a conspiracy to encourage foreign nations to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China.
Biden on Friday said the newspaper’s closure was a “sad day for media freedom” in Hong Kong and around the world. “Beijing is denying basic liberties and assaulting Hong Kong’s autonomy and democratic institutions and processes, inconsistent with its international obligations,” he added.
The US president also urged China to stop targeting the independent press and to release detained journalists and media executives.
However, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian dismissed Biden’s comments. “The US leader’s position is factually baseless,” Zhao said.
Apple Daily was founded by tycoon Jimmy Lai in 1995 – just two years before Britain handed Hong Kong back to China – and was initially known as a newspaper that published celebrity gossip. But, Apple Daily later included pro-democracy discourse and investigations related to those in power.
Lai was charged under the national security law in December on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces. He is currently serving a 20-month prison sentence for his role in allegedly organising unauthorised assemblies in 2019, during a period when Hong Kong saw massive anti-government protests.