Mark Simon is former group director for Next Digital, parent company for Apple Daily, and current representative of the majority shareholder, Jimmy Lai.

In the land of the First Amendment, it’s hard to convey what it’s like to lose the freedom of the press. So ingrained is a free press in the United States’ law and way of life, it is almost impossible for Americans to conceive of their government wiping out one of the country’s most popular press outlets and clapping its owner, officers and writers in jail.

It used to also be unimaginable in Hong Kong, an international financial center whose success once relied on offering freedoms not granted in mainland China. But this is precisely what happened on Thursday, when one of Hong Kong’s largest newspapers, with more than 600,000 paid subscribers to its online news platform, was effectively closed down by Hong Kong authorities beholden to the Chinese Communist government in Beijing.

Apple Daily didn’t just die. It was murdered. And the weapon was the controversial national security law that the China-backed authorities rammed through against considerable public opposition. The government told Apple Daily that approximately 100 opinion pieces and video interviews were part of a scheme to collude with foreign powers to damage China’s national security.

I would like to point you to the offending articles so you could see for yourself if they posed any threat. But Secretary of Security John Lee won’t specify what they are. Instead, authorities give the same answer they always do when someone does something Beijing doesn’t like: “You know what you did.”

What Jimmy Lai and the Apple Daily team have done to upset the authorities was to advocate for democracy, property rights and the rule of law. These principles are ones the Hong Kong people were promised would continue for at least 50 years under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution that came into effect in 1997.

Unfortunately, the national security law has laid waste to all the promises of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. It lets the government act with its own Beijing-approved national security courts and judges, essentially allowing authorities to trump all the other laws that once made Hong Kong free. As the closing of Apple Daily demonstrated, consequences are imparted by edict before anyone has their day in court.

When Apple Daily closed, the company had more than $50 million in cash available in its treasury accounts in Hong Kong. The paper’s parent company, Next Digital, filed that figure in a document submitted under the penalty of criminal sanctions to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange late last month. Yet, officials wouldn’t allow Apple Daily to access these funds under threat of violating the national security law.

Add to this additional pressure the arrest this week of a lead Apple Daily editorial writer; a letter from the government-owned Hong Kong Science Park, where Apple Daily has its offices, saying the government was about to enter the building; and continued phone threats to Apple Daily journalists threatening arrest if publishing continued. In the end, the authorities simply left the team no choice.

So Apple Daily in Hong Kong is no more. Across the world, many recognize this as a blow to free speech. President Biden accuses Beijing of “denying basic liberties and assaulting Hong Kong’s autonomy and democratic institutions and processes.” But the consequences of closing Apple Daily down will be felt by even those who didn’t necessarily like its point of view.

The lifeblood of any financial center is the rule of law and free flow of information. Advocating for democracy was only part of what Apple Daily filled its pages with. Our business pages were often described as a scandal sheet. Many of the corporate elites and tycoons despised the paper for our reporting on their activities — something companies and executives in China do not have to worry about. Yet when was exposure and reporting not a benefit to free and open financial markets?

China has a very different understanding of the relationship between business and the government than we have in the United States. Businesses are assumed to do what China wants, whether that means turning over technology or personal data. This makes the scrutiny and exposure provided by a free press all the more important to keeping Hong Kong a free and open financial market.

But as Apple Daily’s demise shows, the national security law makes this work impossible. Could a critical economic analysis of China’s power grid or a state-owned company be a threat to China’s national security? How about a short on the yuan? Apparently, it serves China’s interests to keep the lines of what is permitted deliberately vague.

Jimmy Lai often told us, “No free press, no free market.” Those in the international business community who believe the closure of Apple Daily will have no impact on them are about to learn this lesson the hard way.

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