HK’s Apple Daily to shut within days, says Jimmy Lai adviser

A supporter of Hong Kong's pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper holds up a copy of the newspaper during a protest outside court in Hong Kong. (AFP)
A supporter of Hong Kong's pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper holds up a copy of the newspaper during a protest outside court in Hong Kong. (AFP)
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Updated 21 June 2021

HK’s Apple Daily to shut within days, says Jimmy Lai adviser

A supporter of Hong Kong's pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper holds up a copy of the newspaper during a protest outside court in Hong Kong. (AFP)
  • Two executives in Apple Daily who were charged under security law denied bail.
  • Pro-democracy newspaper could cease publication on Saturday, undermining Hong Kong's reputation as an open and free society.

HONG KONG: Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily will be forced to shut “in a matter of days” after authorities froze the company’s assets under a national security law, an adviser to jailed owner Jimmy Lai told Reuters on Monday.
The closure of Apple Daily would undermine the former British colony’s reputation as an open and free society and send a warning to other companies that could be accused of colluding with a foreign country, media advocacy groups said.
Next Digital, publisher of the top-selling 26-year-old newspaper, would hold a board meeting on Monday to discuss how to move forward after its lines of credit were frozen, the adviser, Mark Simon, said.
“We thought we’d be able to make it to the end of the month. It’s just getting harder and harder. It’s essentially a matter of days,” he said by telephone from the United States.
Vendors had tried to put money into the company’s bank accounts but had been rejected, he said.
The newspaper would stop publication on June 26 if a board meeting on Friday decided to stop operations, an internal memo seen by Reuters showed.
Apple Daily management could not be reached for comment on Monday.
The newspaper said on Sunday the freezing of its assets had left it with cash for “a few weeks” for normal operations.
Chief Editor Ryan Law, 47, and Chief Executive Cheung Kim-hung, 59, were denied bail on Saturday after being charged with collusion with a foreign country.
Three other executives were arrested on Thursday when 500 police officers raided the newspaper’s offices, drawing condemnation from Western countries, global rights groups and the UN spokesperson for human rights.
Those three are still under investigation but were released from police detention.
Hong Kong officials have repeatedly said that media freedom and other rights will remain intact but national security is a red line.
Security Secretary John Lee told a news conference on Thursday the police operation against the Apple Daily was aimed at those who use reporting as a “tool” to endanger national security and did not target the media industry as a whole.
China’s Foreign Commissioner’s Office said in a statement on Thursday the national security law protected press freedom and warned “external forces” to “keep their hands off Hong Kong.” The office said press freedom cannot be used as a “shield” for those who commit crimes.
The office of the city’s chief executive did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. Beijing’s chief representative in the city, the Liaison Office, and the city’s Security Bureau also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

’WE CAN’T BANK’
In May, Reuters reported exclusively that Hong Kong’s security chief had sent letters to tycoon Lai and branches of HSBC and Citibank threatening up to seven years’ jail for any dealings with the billionaire’s accounts in the city.
A Hong Kong-based spokesperson for Citibank said at the time the bank did not comment on individual client accounts. HSBC declined to comment.
Authorities are also prosecuting three companies related to Apple Daily for alleged collusion with a foreign country and have frozen HK$18 million ($2.3 million) of their assets.
Simon told Reuters it had now become impossible to conduct banking operations in the global financial hub as authorities had “criminalized” any activities with the company’s accounts.
“We can’t bank. Some vendors tried to do that as a favor ... and it was rejected.”
Reuters could not determine the banks where Apple Daily vendors had tried to deposit funds only to have their transactions rejected.
Apple Daily said on Sunday it planned to ask the government’s Security Bureau to unfreeze the assets of the three companies. If that did not work, it may challenge the decision in court, it said.
The paper has come under increasing pressure since owner and Beijing critic Lai, who is now in jail, was arrested under the national security law last August and has since had some of his assets frozen.
A source with direct knowledge of the board’s discussions said an application had been made to the Security Bureau to ask Hong Kong security chief John Lee to unfreeze the assets to allow essential payments to staff and suppliers.
The company has about 600 journalists, according to Simon.
The US-based adviser said some reporters had received threatening phone calls from unknown sources.
“Our staff are now just worried about personal safety,” he said.
Police have said dozens of Apple Daily articles were suspected of violating the national security law, the first case in which authorities have cited media articles as potentially violating the legislation.
Simon and the source said their understanding was that about 100 articles were under scrutiny.
“After all this is said and done, the business community is going to look up and recognize that a man’s company was gutted and stolen by a communist regime in Hong Kong,” he said.
“That’s a big deal.”


Algeria shuts down offices of Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath

Al-Arabiya logo. (File/Al-Arabiya)
Al-Arabiya logo. (File/Al-Arabiya)
Updated 03 August 2021

Algeria shuts down offices of Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath

Al-Arabiya logo. (File/Al-Arabiya)
  • Algeria shuts down Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath offices in the country for “practicing media misinformation”

LONDON: The Algerian Ministry of Communication issued a decision on Saturday to withdraw the accreditation of Al-Arabiya’s representative office in Algeria.

The statement by the ministry highlighted that the decision was due to Al-Arabiya’s “failure to respect the rules of professional ethics and its practice of media misinformation and manipulation.”

Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists called on Algerian authorities to reverse the decision and to ensure that the channel operates freely inside the country.


Belarus sends reporter to prison over deleted chat messages

Belarus sends reporter to prison over deleted chat messages
Updated 03 August 2021

Belarus sends reporter to prison over deleted chat messages

Belarus sends reporter to prison over deleted chat messages
  • Belarus sentences journalist to 1.5 years in prison for insulting the Belarusian president in a deleted chat group
  • Belarusian authorities have ramped up the pressure against non-governmental organizations and independent media in recent weeks
KYIV: A court in Belarus convicted a journalist of insulting the president in messages in a deleted chat group and sentenced him to 1 1/2 years in prison, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said Monday.
The verdict in the case against Siarhei Hardziyevich, 50, comes as part of a massive crackdown that Belarusian authorities have unleashed on independent media and human rights activists.
Hardziyevich on Monday was found guilty of insulting the president and slandering police officers, according to the association. The court sentenced him to a prison term and a $1,600 fine.
The charges against the journalist from Drahichyn, a city 300 kilometers (185 miles) southwest of Belarus’ capital of Minsk, were brought over messages in a chat group on the messaging app Viber which was deleted last year.
Hardziyevich, who worked for a popular regional news outlet, The First Region, has maintained his innocence. His defense team demanded the charges be dropped due to a lack of evidence and because the crime was impossible to establish.
“I have nothing to do with these crimes, I don’t consider myself guilty,” Hardziyevich said in his address to the court before the verdict.
The Viasna human rights center declared Hardziyevich a political prisoner.
Belarusian authorities have ramped up the pressure against non-governmental organizations and independent media in recent weeks, conducting more than 200 raids of offices and apartments of activists and journalists in July alone, according to Viasna.
Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has vowed to continue what he called a “mopping-up operation” against civil society activists whom he has denounced as “bandits and foreign agents.”
Lukashenko faced months of protests triggered by his being awarded a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that the opposition and the West saw as rigged. He responded to demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.
A total of 29 Belarusian journalists remain in custody either awaiting trial or serving their sentences.

Twitter partners with AP, Reuters to battle misinformation on its site

Twitter partners with AP, Reuters to battle misinformation on its site
Updated 03 August 2021

Twitter partners with AP, Reuters to battle misinformation on its site

Twitter partners with AP, Reuters to battle misinformation on its site
  • Twitter will partner with AP and Reuters to provide credible information on the platform and combat the spread of misinformation
  • Twitter said it will collaborate with the newswires during breaking news events to add accurate context
LONDON: Twitter Inc. will partner with the Associated Press and Reuters to more quickly provide credible information on the social networking site as part of an effort to fight the spread of misinformation, it said on Monday.
Like other social media companies, the San Francisco-based firm has been under pressure to remove misleading or false information on its site. Earlier this year Twitter launched a program called Birdwatch, asking its users to help identify and fact-check misleading tweets.
Twitter said it will collaborate with the newswires during breaking news events to add accurate context, which could appear in various places on Twitter, such as a label attached to tweets about the event or as a “Moment,” which curates information about trending topics on Twitter.
The partnerships mark the first time Twitter will formally collaborate with news organizations to elevate accurate information on its site, a Twitter spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added Twitter will work separately with both the AP and Reuters, a division of information services company Thomson Reuters Corp, and the newswires will not interact with each other.
“Trust, accuracy and impartiality are at the heart of what Reuters does every day ... those values also drive our commitment to stopping the spread of misinformation,” Hazel Baker, global head of UGC (user-generated content) newsgathering at Reuters, said in a statement.
Tom Januszewski, vice president of global business development at the AP, said: “We are particularly excited about leveraging AP’s scale and speed to add context to online conversations, which can benefit from easy access to the facts.”

US to evacuate journalists, aid workers from Afghanistan

Afghan interpreters at a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan, before the beginning of the U.S. troop withdrawal in April. (File/Getty Images)
Afghan interpreters at a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan, before the beginning of the U.S. troop withdrawal in April. (File/Getty Images)
Updated 03 August 2021

US to evacuate journalists, aid workers from Afghanistan

Afghan interpreters at a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan, before the beginning of the U.S. troop withdrawal in April. (File/Getty Images)
  • The Biden administration expands efforts to evacuate at-risk Afghan citizens and give them refugee status in the US
  • Afghans eligible for asylum now include current and former employees of US-based news organizations, US-based aid and development agencies and other relief groups

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration on Monday expanded its efforts to evacuate at-risk Afghan citizens from Afghanistan as Taliban violence increases ahead there of the US military pullout at the end of the month.
The State Department said it is widening the scope of Afghans eligible for refugee status in United States to include current and former employees of US-based news organizations, US-based aid and development agencies and other relief groups that receive US funding. Current and former employees of the US government and the NATO military operation who don’t meet the criteria for a dedicated program for such workers are also covered.
However, the move comes with a major caveat: applicants must leave Afghanistan to begin the adjudication process that may take 12-14 months in a third country, and the US does not intend to support their departures or stays there.
Nevertheless, the State Department said the move will mean that “many thousands” of Afghans and their immediate families will now have the opportunity to be permanently resettled in the US as refugees. It did not offer a more specific number of those who might be eligible for the program.
“The US objective remains a peaceful, secure Afghanistan,” it said in a statement. “However, in light of increased levels of Taliban violence, the US government is working to provide certain Afghans, including those who worked with the United States, the opportunity for refugee resettlement to the United States.”
The creation of a “Priority 2” category for Afghans within the US Refugee Admissions Program is intended for Afghans and their immediate families who “may be at risk due to their US affiliation” but aren’t able to get a Special Immigrant Visa because they did not work directly for the US government or didn’t hold their government jobs long enough.
To qualify for the Priority 2 category, Afghans must be nominated by a US government agency or by the most senior civilian US citizen employee of a U.S-based media outlet or nongovernmental organization.
The first group of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants — most of whom served as translators or did other work for US troops or diplomats — who have cleared security vetting arrived in the US on Friday. That group of 221 people are among 2,500 who will be brought to the US in the coming days.
Another 4,000 SIV applicants, plus their families, who have not yet cleared the security screening are expected to be relocated to third countries ahead of the completion of the US withdrawal. Roughly 20,000 Afghans have expressed interest in the program.


MENA music platform to launch entertainment destinations in region

MENA music platform to launch entertainment destinations in region
Updated 03 August 2021

MENA music platform to launch entertainment destinations in region

MENA music platform to launch entertainment destinations in region
  • First Anghami Lab to open in Dubai followed by Riyadh, Jeddah, other cities

DUBAI: A leading music streaming platform in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has unveiled plans to launch an innovative entertainment venue in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

The first Anghami Lab will open in Dubai, followed by Riyadh, and then other major cities.

Anghami, the digital distribution company behind the initiative, has partnered with hospitality group Addmind, which operates venues such as White, Iris, and Clap throughout Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Qatar, and London.

Tony Habre, chief executive officer of Addmind, said: “Anghami is more than just a streaming platform, they have elevated the value of the music industry in the Middle East as a whole – Anghami Lab is an amazing and unique concept that embodies our rich Arab culture with an international twist, which we are thrilled to bring to fruition and scale.”

Anghami Lab will combine the online and offline worlds, bridging digital and traditional entertainment. The venue will feature a lounge, stage, and studio where creators can experiment and work together making music, which will be played and performed there.

The resulting music will also be made available exclusively on Anghami and the app will provide special features complementing both experiences.

The fusion cuisine served at Anghami Lab will be aimed at embodying the essence of Anghami by providing an international taste with an Arabic flavor.

Eddy Maroun, co-founder and CEO of Anghami, said: “We are excited to partner with Addmind to create this unique, transformational experience for our users.

“Addmind is a leading expert in conceptualizing and operating hospitality spaces, and this is a great opportunity to further reinforce the value we provide digitally to be converged offline in a unique user-to-guest experience.”

The first venue is due to be opened in Dubai in early 2022, to be followed by similar centers in Riyadh, Jeddah, Cairo, Beirut, and other cities such as London, New York, and Los Angeles.