Heartbreak in newsroom as Apple Daily bids farewell to Hong Kong

The final edition was a tribute to its readers with the headline: “Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain.” (AFP)
The final edition was a tribute to its readers with the headline: “Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain.” (AFP)
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Updated 24 June 2021

Heartbreak in newsroom as Apple Daily bids farewell to Hong Kong

The final edition was a tribute to its readers with the headline: “Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain.” (AFP)
  • Staff at the Hong Kong's pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily bid farewell as the paper prints its last edition on Thursday.
  • Hundreds of Hong Kong residents gathered in the rain outside Apple Daily offices where a million copies were being printed.

HONG KONG: Apple Daily cub reporter Yau Ting-leung could not sleep much. Tired, he lay in bed on Wednesday morning checking the news.
The 23-year-old had been in his dream job at the pro-democracy tabloid for less than a year, but now things were unraveling.
Six days after a police raid on Apple, the arrests of its top two editors and a freeze of core assets on national security grounds, the company was running out of cash and options.
Final publication was set for Saturday, with a skeleton crew putting out the last of the roughly 9,500 editions of the paper.
“At 11:30 a.m. the news came that they’d arrested our lead columnist,” Yau told Reuters. “At that moment, I just felt numb.”
Soon afterward, the board decided it would be the last day for the feisty Chinese-language publication that combined celebrity gossip with investigations of the powerful.
Yau, the youngest member of the paper’s investigative team, ignored a warning from management to stay home, showing up at the office in an isolated industrial estate. Many others did the same.
With Apple’s website and 26 years’ worth of content to be purged at midnight, time was running out.
“I didn’t have to write anything today. I was put in charge of saving our work, including our award-winning reports,” said Yau, who is three years younger than Apple Daily. But he was unable to finish: “No matter how hard I tried to back up ... there just wasn’t enough time.”
Ten meters from Yau, Norman Choi was at work on a story. This time, though, it was an obituary for Apple Daily.
Surrounded by the clutter of 22 years at the paper, including crackers and empty liquor bottles, the 51-year-old senior features editor clacked away at his keyboard, wearing a black mask and clothes.
As he tried to focus, Choi had a mountain of other tasks, such as taking down slogans beside his desk.
“I’m not deliberately staying behind. I just don’t want to leave my fellow reporters,” he said.
Deputy chief editor Chan Pui-man, out on bail after her arrest, wandered the open-plan newsroom with its “I love Apple” logos on the wall, red-eyed at times.
“It’s hard to control our emotions,” she said.

APPLE TREE
As news of the paper’s impending closure spread, staff could see and hear crowds gathering outside. Some chanted “Thank you Apple Daily — Add oil!” a Chinese expression of encouragement that had become a refrain among supporters of the paper.
Around midnight, the first warm copies of the record 1 million to be printed — more than 10 times the usual press run — came off the presses and were handed out to the cheering crowd.
Ryan Law, 47, Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief, told Reuters before his arrest, “No matter what happens to us, you can’t kill the people who read Apple Daily.”
Photographer Harry Long, and his pictures team did not have to venture far for their last front-page image.
They settled on a shot from the roof showing the people, many with umbrellas, and vehicles clogging the normally quiet street below. Beside the picture, the headline read: “Hong Kongers bid a painful farewell in the rain.”
Lights from mobile phones twinkle up from the supporters.
“I’m heartbroken,” Long said.
Yau waved down from the roof with his own mobile phone, hugging colleagues soon to be out of a job.
“We would all suddenly start crying as we just couldn’t bear to see this end,” he said. But at the same time, “everyone was happy too. That we could all work through this last day together, united in doing this one thing.”
Choi, the features editor, found the public support touching.
“It’s the first time so many readers come and support us here, and I know it’s the last time,” he said. Their showing up “means everything in my career in Apple Daily, and in my life.”
Papers were stacked and loaded onto lorries and vans and whisked to newsstands across the city of 7.5 million.
At a kiosk in the working class district of Mong Kok, hundreds queued around the block to snap up a copy. Some chanted “Liberate Hong Kong — Revolution of our Times,” the rallying cry of the city’s mass anti-China protests in 2019.
The last edition carried a farewell letter from Chan, the deputy chief editor.
“When an apple is buried beneath the soil, its seed will become a tree filled with bigger and more beautiful apples.
“Love you all forever, love Hong Kong forever.”


Iranians fear new bill will restrict Internet even further

Iranians fear new bill will restrict Internet even further
Updated 04 August 2021

Iranians fear new bill will restrict Internet even further

Iranians fear new bill will restrict Internet even further
  • The law would also criminalize the sale and distribution of virtual private networks and proxies
  • Bill has yet to be approved by Iran’s hard-liner dominated parliament, but it is already stirring anxiety among young Iranians

TEHRAN: For Ali Hedieloo, a 40-year-old making wooden furniture in Iran’s capital, Instagram is more than just a surfeit of glossy images. Like an estimated 1 million other Iranians, it’s how he finds customers, as the app has exploded into a massive e-commerce service in the sanctions-hit country.
But now, the social media platform has come under threat. Iran moved last week toward further government restrictions on Instagram and other apps, as hard-line lawmakers agreed to discuss a bill that many fear will undermine communication, wipe out livelihoods and open the door to the banning of key social media tools.
“I and the people working here are likely to lose our jobs if this bill becomes effective,” said Hedieloo from his dimly lit workshop in the southern suburbs of Tehran, where he sands bleached wood and snaps photos of adorned desks to advertise.
The bill has yet to be approved by Iran’s hard-liner dominated parliament, but it is already stirring anxiety among young Iranians, avid social media users, online business owners and entrepreneurs. Iran is a country with some 94 million Internet devices in use among its over 80 million people. Nearly 70 percent of Iran’s population uses smartphones.
Over 900,000 Iranians have signed a petition opposing the bill. The protest comes at a tense time for Iran, with Ebrahim Raisi, the former judiciary chief and hard-line protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, assuming the country’s highest civilian position this week. Journalists, civil society advocates and government critics have raised the alarm about the possible increase of social repression once he takes office.
The draft legislation, first proposed this spring by conservative lawmakers, requires major foreign tech giants such as Facebook to register with the Iranian government and be subject to its oversight and data ownership rules.
Companies that host unregistered social media apps in Iran would risk penalties, with authorities empowered to slow down access to the companies’ services as a way to force them to comply. Lawmakers have noted that the crippling US sanctions on Iran make the registration of American tech companies in the country impossible, effectively ensuring their ban.
The law would also criminalize the sale and distribution of virtual private networks and proxies — a critical way Iranians access long-blocked social media platforms like Facebook, Telegram, Twitter and YouTube. It also would bar government officials from running accounts on banned social media platforms, which they now use to communicate with citizens and the press. Even the office of the supreme leader has a Twitter account with over 890,000 followers.
And finally, the bill takes control of the Internet away from the civilian government and places it under the armed forces.
The bill’s goal, according to its authors, is to “protect users and their rights.” Hard-liners in the government have long viewed social messaging and media services as part of a “soft war” by the West against the Islamic Republic. Over time, Iran has created what some have called the “halal” Internet — the Islamic Republic’s own locally controlled version of the Internet aimed at restricting what the public can see.
Supporters of the bill, such as hard-line lawmaker Ali Yazdikhah, have hailed it as a step toward an independent Iranian Internet, where “people will start to prefer locally developed services” over foreign companies.
“There is no reason to worry, online businesses will stay, and even we promise that they will expand too,” he said.
Internet advocates, however, fear the measures will tip the country toward an even more tightly controlled model like China, whose “Great Firewall” blocks access to thousands of foreign websites and slows others.
Iran’s outgoing Information Technology Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, whom the hard-line judiciary summoned for prosecution earlier this year over his refusal to block Instagram, warned that the bill would curtail access to information and lead to full-blown bans of popular messaging apps. In a letter to Raisi last month, he urged the president-elect to reconsider the bill.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Social media is a highly contested space in Iran, where the government retains tight control over newspapers and remains the only entity allowed to broadcast on television and radio. Over recent years, anti-government protesters have used social media as a communication tool to mobilize and spread their message, prompting authorities to cripple Internet services.
During the turmoil in the fall of 2019, for instance, the government imposed a near-complete Internet blackout. Even scattered demonstrations, such as the recent protests over water shortages in Iran’s southwest, have seen disruptions of mobile Internet service.
But many ordinary Iranians, reeling from harsh American sanctions that have severed access to international banking systems and triggered runaway inflation, remain more preoccupied with the bill’s potential financial fallout.
As the coronavirus ravages Iran, a growing number of people like Hedieloo have turned to Instagram to make a living — tutoring and selling homemade goods and art. Over 190,000 businesses moved online over the past year.
Although much about the bill’s fate remains uncertain, experts say it already has sent a chill through commerce on Instagram, where once-hopeful users now doubt they have a future on the app.
“I and everyone else who is working in cyberspace is worried,” said Milad Nouri, a software developer and technology analyst. “This includes a teenager playing online games, a YouTuber making money from their channel, an influencer, an online shop based on Instagram.”
He added: “Everyone is somehow stressed.”


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.