A state-owned convenience store chain in Hong Kong stopped selling the Apple Daily newspaper on Friday, more than two weeks after the tabloid-style publication’s founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying was arrested on suspicion of breaching the national security law.
Confirming VanGO’s decision to remove the newspaper from its shelves, Ryan Law Wai-kwong, editor-in-chief of Apple Daily, which has been strongly critical of Beijing, said the move would obstruct the free flow of information in Hong Kong.
“It would do absolutely no good to Hongkongers’ right to know,” he told the Post, adding it remained uncertain what prompted the decision.
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Vango, which has more than 30 stores in Hong Kong, is owned by the China Resources Group.
Apple Daily reported that its circulation staff were only told the convenience store would stop selling the newspaper when they sent over copies of Friday’s edition.
Around 1,000 copies were affected and were sent to other selling points, the newspaper said.
A spokesman for Vanguard, the parent company to VanGO, said it was a regular business decision, but did not indicate what prompted the move.
Hong Kong police mounted a high-profile operation on August 10 by arresting a total of 10 people, including Lai, and young activist Agnes Chow Ting, for alleged violations of the national security law and fraud.
Chow and two others were accused by police of being behind an online group which called for foreign sanctions, while Lai, along with his son Ian, and Royston Chow Tat-kuen, the chief operating officer and chief financial officer of the newspaper’s parent company Next Digital, have been accused of funnelling group funds through overseas bank accounts.
Police also raided Apple Daily’s offices, spending several hours combing through the premises for unspecified documents, a move widely condemned by journalists’ associations in Hong Kong.
Lai has shrugged off the allegations, distanced himself from the online group, and accused police of trumping up charges against him.
Asked if he feared other convenience stores and supermarkets would be put under pressure to follow in Vango’s steps, Law said he did not want it to happen, and the circulation department would keep an eye on the developments.
Chris Yeung Kin-hing, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said that over the years there had been political factors influencing business decisions towards Apple Daily, as seen in how some steered clear of placing advertisements in the newspaper.
He said members of the public could judge for themselves whether to believe VanGO’s claim of the move being a “regular business decision”.
“Apple Daily has been selling well, especially recently. It would be an incomprehensible ‘business decision’,” he said.