Hong Kong residents defend free press as China cracks down

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Copies of Apple Daily newspaper with front pages featuring Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, are displayed for sale at a newsstand in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. Hong Kong police have arrested Lai and raided the publisher's headquarters, broadening their enforcement of a new security law and raising fears about press freedom in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

HONG KONG – Last year, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong to demand full democracy, many egged on by a tabloid newspaper critical of China's ruling Communist Party.

On Tuesday, they lined up at newsstands across the city to buy that same paper, handing over 10 Hong Kong dollars ($1.25) a copy in a bid to help the Apple Daily — and press freedom — survive.

The public show of support came a day after police rounded up 10 people, including the paper's founder, and raided its headquarters. The move reinforced fears that a new national security law would be used to suppress dissent in Hong Kong after months of anti-government protests shook the city’s leadership and the central government in Beijing last year.

Police have expanded their use of the law since it took effect six weeks ago, first arresting protesters with slogans deemed to be in violation and then activists over online posts. Media tycoon Jimmy Lai, the Apple Daily founder, and his Next Digital media group were the largest targets to date.

That people protested by buying a newspaper rather than by taking to the streets shows how much the climate has changed since the stormy protests last year. Investors also bought Next Digital stock to show support, driving its price up more than 300% on Tuesday.

The Apple Daily, known for its celebrity coverage as well as its condemnation of China's authoritarian rule, remained defiant, printing 350,000 copies — five times its usual print run — after police investigators left Next Digital and told employees they could go back to work.

Lines formed at newsstands Tuesday in a public show of support, and Apple Daily said it would print an additional 200,000 copies. “Apple Daily will fight on," the newspaper said on its front page.

“I do not like the way Apple Daily reports news but I think it symbolizes press freedom in Hong Kong,” Tiffany Chan said after buying a copy at a convenience store. “I cannot just sit and watch the government destroy press freedom. This is the least I can do.”