Hong Kong's leading independent newspaper, Apple Daily, said it was closing down Wednesday and would print its final issue Thursday, succumbing to an unprecedented campaign by the Beijing-backed government to silence a popular tabloid at the center of the city's democracy movement.
Authorities froze on Thursday the equivalent of $2.3 million from three related companies and arrested five Apple Daily executives, seizing dozens of computers and hard drives from its newsroom.
Mr. Lai, a refugee turned clothing tycoon who founded Apple Daily in 1995, has been a top target of the national-security police and is awaiting trial on foreign-collusion charges. The Apple Daily says if the freeze is not lifted, it will cease operations after publishing its morning edition on Saturday, as funds are running low.
It said the decision was "based on employee safety and manpower considerations".
The closure of Apple Daily is "a big blow to the freedom of the press and freedom of speech in Hong Kong", saidRonson Chan, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Assn.
Five executives, including chief editor Ryan Law and CEO Cheung Kim-hung, were arrested under the charge of colluding with foreign forces.
The trial of the first person charged under the national security law in Hong Kong begins on Wednesday, nearly a year after he was charged with driving his motorbike into officers during a rally while carrying a flag with a protest slogan.
Those three are still under investigation but were released from police detention.
Rights groups, media organisations and Western governments have criticised last week's police raid on the newspaper.
Hong Kong's Judiciary describes trial by jury as one of the most important features of the city's legal system, a common law tradition created to offer defendants additional protection against the possibility of authorities overreaching their power.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday criticism of the raid and arrests amounted to attempts to "beautify" acts that endangered national security.
Pro-Beijing newspapers Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao published special pages on Wednesday, portraying Lai as a "dog-like animal", a "traitor" and a shoe-shiner doing the bidding of the United States.
Apple Daily has come under increasing pressure since its tycoon owner and staunch Beijing critic, Jimmy Lai, was arrested past year under the contentious legislation.
It said endangering national security is a very serious crime.
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