Opinion: We must continue the work that Apple Daily started in the face of oppression

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Apple Daily printed its last ever paper on Thursday morning. The newspaper, founded in 1995 by Jimmy Lai, confirmed that it was shutting down its print and online edition this week after the Hong Kong government moved against it.

As AFP reports:

“Apple Daily is the latest Hong Kong institution to be upended by a national security law that Beijing imposed on the city last year to stamp out dissent after huge and often violent democracy protests.

Authorities used the law to freeze its assets and arrest five key executives last week.”

It is a worrying sign.

For years, Apple Daily was the lone candlelight in Hong Kong, illuminating an increasingly bleak and oppressive situation.

Both Jimmy Lai and Apple Daily should be lauded and commended for their bravery in the face of ongoing censorship, arrests, and the totalitarian tendencies of the Hong Kong government which has sought to appease its paymasters in Beijing at every turn.

One need not look further than the morning the Hong Kong Security Law was announced.

Apple Daily’s untimely demise should serve as a warning for all who cherish free press in Asia about the need to be resolute in the face of increasing authoritarianism.

Here in Thailand the situation also grows increasingly grim. The government has signaled that it would introduce new laws to curtail online and social media in a bid to protect ‘national security.’

A new report released by the International Commission of Jurists notes the growing oppression of online and public space by the Prayut administration.

As Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Secretary General said, “The Thai authorities have continued their systematic abuse of existing and new deficient laws to curtail not only the right to freedom of expression, opinion and information online, but also the rights to peaceful assembly, health and other rights.”

The ICJ also notes in the report:

“The Thai authorities have…pressured and co-opted big technological companies to improperly restrict or block content on their platforms, through court-enforced demands and the filing of criminal complaints for failing to comply.”

and

“Thai authorities have failed to adequately protect individuals against the human rights abuses of private actors, who include companies harassing its critics through legal processes and perpetrators of online speech inciting discrimination, hostility or violence.”

The report concludes that Thailand should reform its laws immediately to protect the rights of citizens.

For people living in Thailand, we know that there is no chance that any such reform will occur. We are on our own against a government that increasingly cares little what we think or want.

It is, therefore, our duty not only here in Thailand but across the region to carry out the work that the fine men and women at Apple Daily have started.

We owe it to them and to ourselves to stand firm in the fight against the encroaching dark.

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