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Free press one of our nation’s many liberties

On this holiday, when we give thanks for the many liberties that make America great, I reflect particularly on our press freedoms.

Appreciation for this critically important freedom should grow as we witness it crumbling in other parts of the world.

Sadly, just 10 days ago Hong Kong’s sole remaining pro-democracy newspaper was forced out. The Apple Daily published its final edition June 24 after five editors and executives there were arrested and $2.3 million in assets were frozen, all part of China’s increasing crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous city.

The Associated Press reports the publication’s board of directors and its parent company Next Media said both the print and online editions would cease due to “current circumstances prevailing in Hong Kong.”

Today, as we celebrate America’s Declaration of Independence and the freedoms later spelled out in our Constitution, Hong Kong residents are losing their freedoms.

Apple Daily’s silencing is just the latest sign of China’s determination to exert greater control over the city long known for its freedoms after huge anti-government protests there in 2019 shook the government. Since then, Beijing has imposed a strict national security law — used in the arrests of the newspaper employees — and revamped Hong Kong’s election laws to keep opposition voices out of the legislature.

The Hong Kong-based newspaper acknowledged it had made the decision to close out of concern for its employees’ safety.

According to the AP, Apple Daily was founded by tycoon Jimmy Lai in 1995 — just two years before Britain handed Hong Kong back to China. Lai always portrayed the paper as an advocate of Western values and said it should “shine a light on snakes, insects, mice and ants in the dark,” according to the paper.

It grew into an outspoken voice for defending Hong Kong’s freedoms not found on mainland China, and in recent years has often criticized the Chinese and Hong Kong governments for limiting those freedoms and reneging on a promise to protect them for 50 years after the city’s handover to China. While pro-democracy media outlets still exist online, this was the only print newspaper left of its kind in the city. Certainly, the future for the pro-democracy online media outlets cannot be bright.

Now, Lai faces charges under the national security law for foreign collusion. He already is serving a prison sentence for his involvement in the 2019 protests.

The newspaper’s editors and executives were detained on suspicion of colluding with foreigners to endanger national security. Police cited more than 30 articles published by the paper as evidence of an alleged conspiracy to encourage foreign nations to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China. It was the first time the national security law had been used against journalists for something they had published.

One day before the newspaper was set to be shuttered, police there also arrested a man on suspicion of foreign collusion to endanger national security, the Apple Daily reported. The paper said the man writes editorials under the pseudonym Li Ping.

Despite criticisms that American newspapers, including this one, often receive from government officials upset over what we report, stonewalling that our reporters sometimes face when seeking information on topics that some would prefer remain unpublicized or responses from readers who disagree with our position or coverage, we are blessed. In America, we know that we do not face criminal charges or possible imprisonment for bringing to light issues of critical importance that the public needs to know.

Indeed, we are free to do so, provided that we are accurate, by the language in our First Amendment. Likewise, we give that voice to readers so that you, too, may share their thoughts and opinions without fear of repercussions from our government.

For that — along with our many, many other freedoms — we give thanks today.

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