Readers scoop up all one million copies of Apple Daily which claims it was forced to cease operations after police froze $2.3 million of its assets, searched its office and arrested five top editors and executives last week.

People queue up to buy last issue of Apple Daily at a newspaper booth at a downtown street in Hong Kong on June 24, 2021
People queue up to buy last issue of Apple Daily at a newspaper booth at a downtown street in Hong Kong on June 24, 2021 (AP)

The final edition of Hong Kong's last remaining anti-China paper has sold out in hours, as readers scooped up all 1 million copies of the Apple Daily, in China's semi-autonomous city.

Across the densely populated metropolis, people lined up early in the morning on Thursday to buy the paper, which in recent years has become an increasingly outspoken critic of Chinese and Hong Kong authorities. 

The paper was gone from newsstands by 8:30 a.m [local time].

The newspaper said it was forced to cease operations after police froze $2.3 million of its assets, searched its office and arrested five top editors and executives last week, accusing them of foreign collusion to endanger national security.

"This is our last day, and last edition, does this reflect the reality that Hong Kong has started to lose its press freedom and freedom of speech?" an Apple Daily graphic designer, Dickson Ng, asked in comments to The Associated Press. 

"Why does it have to end up like this?"

READ MORE: Stop the press: Apple Daily goes to final print after arrests, asset freeze

Final edition

The paper printed 1 million copies for its last edition — up from the usual 80,000.

On the front page was splashed an image of an employee in the office waving at supporters surrounding the building, with the headline "Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain, 'We support Apple Daily.'"

While anti-Beijing media outlets still exist online, it was the only print newspaper of its kind left in the city.

The pressure on the paper reflects a broader crackdown on Hong Kong’s civil liberties, ramped up after massive anti-government protests in 2019 unsettled authorities. 

READ MORE: Hong Kong begins first trial under national security law with no jury

An Apple Daily journalist holds freshly-printed copies of the newspaper's last edition to be distributed to supporters gathered outside their office in Hong Kong early on June 24, 2021
An Apple Daily journalist holds freshly-printed copies of the newspaper's last edition to be distributed to supporters gathered outside their office in Hong Kong early on June 24, 2021 (AFP)

'Sad day' for media 

US President Joe Biden lamented a "sad day for media freedom in Hong Kong and around the world" after Apple Daily was forced to close.

"It is a sad day for media freedom in Hong Kong and around the world," Biden said in a statement released by the White House.

"Intensifying repression by Beijing has reached such a level that Apple Daily, a much-needed bastion of independent journalism in Hong Kong, has now ceased publishing," he continued.

"Through arrests, threats, and forcing through a National Security Law that penalises free speech, Beijing has insisted on wielding its power to suppress independent media and silence dissenting views."

READ MORE: Hong Kong leader Lam lashes out at criticism over Apple Daily raid

New security law

The prosecution of Apple Daily was sparked by articles and columns that allegedly supported international sanctions against China, a view now deemed illegal under the new security law imposed on Hong Kong last year.

The closure of Apple Daily raises the specter that other media outlets — though none as outspoken — will become even more cautious, such as the more than 100-year-old English-language South China Morning Post.

The increasing restrictions have come despite China's promise to protect Hong Kong's civil liberties for 50 years after the city's 1997 handover from Britain.

READ MORE: Hong Kong's Apple Daily to 'shut down' after asset freeze

Source: TRTWorld and agencies