The newspaper has come under fire from the authorities over their critical coverage of Beijing, with charges slapped on editors and the owners of the company. The newsroom has been raided and assets frozen under a controversial national security law imposed last year.
The case has drawn international condemnation and stoked fears over media freedom in one of the largest international financial centres, where several international media houses have their offices.
On Monday, an adviser to one of the jailed owners of the newspaper, Jimmy Lai, told Reuters that the newspaper would be forced to shut “in a matter of days”.
“We thought we’d be able to make it to the end of the month. It’s just getting harder and harder. It’s essentially a matter of days,” Mark Simon, an adviser of Mr Lai, told Reuters.
An internal memo seen by Reuters says the newspaper board will hold a meeting on Friday and decide whether the company will continue to operate.
“If the board decides not to continue to operate on Friday, online will stop uploading at 23.59pm on the day, the newspaper will cease operation after publishing the 26 June edition,” the memo said, according to the news agency. The company would “accommodate” any immediate resignations, it added.
He also told the news agency that the vendors tried to put money into the company’s bank accounts, but the transactions had been rejected.
On 14 May, the Hong Kong government issued notices to freeze all Next Digital shares held by Mr Lai, and all local bank accounts of the three companies he owns. The freezing of its assets had left the company with cash for “a few weeks” for normal operations, it said on Sunday.
Two editors of the newspaper, chief editor Ryan Law and chief executive Cheung Kim-hung have been arrested and charged under national security law for an alleged “collusion with a foreign country” and their bails were denied on Saturday.
Last Thursday, more than 500 police officers raided the paper’s newsroom and arrested a total of five people. Several countries, global rights groups and the UN spokesperson for human rights have condemned the raid.
A staff member interviewed by The Guardian, who gave her surname as Chang, said she and many other employees treat “every day like it is our last” working for the paper.
“At first, authorities said the national security law would only target a tiny number of people,” she said. “But what has happened showed us that is nonsense.”
Another staff reporter, who gave her first name as Theresa, said she felt Apple Daily’s legal troubles were a warning for other media houses. “I think what has happened to Apple Daily today can eventually happen to every other news outlet in the city,” she said.
The Chinese leadership has defended its actions. Security secretary John Lee told a news conference on Thursday that their move was aimed at those who use reporting as a “tool” to endanger national security and did not target the media industry as a whole.
The same day China’s foreign commissioner’s office issued a statement saying the national security law protected press freedom and warned “external forces” to “keep their hands off Hong Kong”. The office said press freedom cannot be used as a “shield” for those who commit crimes.
The newspaper, known for its bold and critical stand against authoritarian Chinese leaders has also been actively speaking in support of the pro-democracy movement. However, this is the first time editorial coverage has been made the basis of imposing charges under Hong Kong’s controversial new law, after a year of unrest.