One year after the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper was forced to close amid an investigation by national security police, its former journalists are struggling to come to terms with the loss of the paper, an often sensationalist, sometimes hard-hitting daily founded by jailed media mogul Jimmy Lai.
The paper's closure came after hundreds of national security police descended on the headquarters of Next Digital in Tseung Kwan O on June 17, 2021, confiscating computers and journalistic materials police said were "evidence" of collusion with foreign forces under the national security law.
Five executives were arrested, and the paper's assets totaling around H.K.$18 million were frozen by the authorities.
Chief editor Ryan Law and Next Digital CEO Cheung Kim-hung have since been charged with "collusion with foreign powers," while three other executives have been released on bail without being charged.
A former journalist who gave only the surname Leung said she still remembers the crowd of well-wishers who gathered outside the paper's headquarters on the night that it closed, cheering and shouting encouragement.
"The editors in charge came out to boost morale, with a strong sense that they were going to be martyrs," Leung told RFA. "Everyone knew even then that the senior editors were in danger [of arrest and prosecution]."
"I was hoping, as their employee, that they would leave Hong Kong that same night and go to a safe place, we also knew they were mentally prepared [for arrest]," she said.
"As employees, we were sad that it had to end, but we felt it was an honorable defeat," Leung said.
Leung, a veteran newspaper reporter of 20 years' experience who had only worked at the paper for a year when it closed, said she suffered insomnia and suffered emotionally due to the arrests of her bosses, friends and colleagues.
"Some places contacted me with jobs after Apple Daily closed on June 23, but I looked at the materials for a long time, and couldn't write a word," she said.
"My heart had died along with the Apple Daily."
Leung gave up on journalism after the paper's demise, and moved to the democratic island of Taiwan with her family, where she was able to disconnect and heal for a while, slowly recovering from the pain of the paper's demise.
But while she longs to write to her former colleagues and friends back in Hong Kong, she hasn't contacted them for fear that doing so would render them vulnerable to further charges from the authorities.
"I have always wanted to write to them, and I want to tell them that a lot of people are still flying the flag, and I would like to thank them for giving me the opportunity to work at Apple Daily," Leung said.
"But I fear that they could have fresh charges imposed on them like collusion, if they receive [letters] with Taiwan stamps on them," she said.
A draconian national security law imposed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on Hong Kong from July 1, 2020 has sparked a crackdown on pro-democracy media organizations.
After Lai's Next Digital media empire was forced to close, the crackdown has also led to the closure of Stand News and Citizen News, as well as the "rectification" of iCable news and government broadcaster RTHK to bring them closer to Beijing's official line.
Hong Kong recently plummeted from 80th to 148th in the 2022 Reporters Without Border (RSF) press freedom index, with the closures of Apple Daily and Stand News cited as one of the main factors.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.