China's foreign ministry on Friday rejected comments by U.S. President Joe Biden that the closure of Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper signaled growing repression by Beijing.
Biden said on Thursday that the end of the Apple Daily was a "sad day for media freedom."
The Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper, ceased publication last week after its leaders were detained and its monies were frozen.
Biden called on Beijing to stop targeting the news media and to release detained journalists and media leaders.
"People in Hong Kong have the right to freedom of the press,” he said.
China's foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian dismissed the criticism at a news event in Beijing on Friday.
"The U.S. leader's position is factually baseless," Zhao said.
On Thursday, United Nations, or U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet condemned the continued detention of Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai. She criticized his imprisonment as his pro-democracy newspaper released its last edition.
Apple Daily was an unapologetic news source that mixed pro-democracy coverage with news about famous people and investigations of those in power. Chinese leaders in Beijing saw the newspaper as a threat to their power.
Apple Daily closed down last week. It was forced to end a 26-year run during a strengthening of a national security law that froze the company’s monies. Readers formed long lines to pick up the last edition at newsstands around the city.
Lai, a Chinese government critic, has been in jail since December over unpermitted demonstrations during Hong Kong’s mass pro-democracy protests in 2019. He faces national security charges.
Bachelet spoke remotely at the 2021 Society of Publishers in Asia press awards ceremony held in Hong Kong. She said the new national security law was leading reporters to “self-censor” to avoid breaking the unclear laws.
Hong Kong’s government did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside office hours.
Apple Daily printed 1 million copies for its final release, preparing for increased demand. This is more than 10 times its usual.
Emotions ran high on Thursday among supporters of the paper. Apple Daily has faced never-ending pressure since Lai was arrested in August 2020.
Tse, 60, was waiting for the newspaper. “I couldn’t sleep well for the past few nights,” she said, adding “I hope reporters stay true to their faith and keep working hard.”
Media rights groups say the shutdown of Apple Daily is a serious blow to Hong Kong’s media freedoms. The city has long been known as a media center, but Beijing’s new security law appears to have ended free speech in Hong Kong.
Critics of the law say that it is being used to stop dissent in the city. The Chinese government rejects this statement.
Officials in Hong Kong and China have continuously said media freedoms are respected, but are not complete and total.
Some employees of Apple Daily expressed feelings of anger at the stoppage.
Dickson Ng is a designer at the paper. “(After) today, there is no press freedom in Hong Kong, he said.”
The Chinese foreign ministry said rights and freedoms could not endanger national security.
A ministry spokesperson said “Hong Kong is a society that has rule of law...No one or no organization is above the law.” The spokesperson added “all rights and freedom, including media freedom, cannot go beyond the bottom line of national security.”
Last week, 500 officers raided the newspaper’s headquarters. Live feeds showed officers going through reporters’ notes and other materials which drew international criticism.
Five executives were arrested. Chief editor Ryan Law and Cheung Kim-hung were charged with plotting to work with another country, and were denied bail.
Authorities froze the property and monies, or assets, of companies related to Apple Daily. Executives said the seizure left them unable to operate.
Lai is facing three national security charges ad has been in jail since December. He was denied bail under the security law and is already serving sentences for taking part in unauthorized protests.
I’m Dan Novak.
Sharon Abratique and Annie Marie Roantree reported this story for Reuters. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.
Words in This Story
journalist – n. the activity or job of collecting, writing, and editing news stories for newspapers, magazines, television, or radio
censor – v. to examine books, movies, or letters in order to remove things that are considered to be offensive, immoral, or harmful to society
faith – n. strong belief or trust in someone or something
press – n. newspapers, magazines, and radio and television news reports
raid – v. to enter (a place) suddenly in a forceful way in order to look for someone or something
editor – n. a person whose job is to edit something
bail – n. an amount of money given to a court to allow a prisoner to leave jail and return later for a trial