Free speech activists defy China by porting Apple Daily to the blockchain

Pro-democracy Hong Kong paper Apple Daily went to press for the final time on Thursday with a triumphant one-million run.

Protestors have written thousands of Apple Daily articles — Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy newspaper — to a censorship-resistant blockchain after government raids forced it to shutter after 26 years.

Apple Daily went to press for the final time on Thursday. Staff arrests and frozen assets led the outlet to bow out with a triumphant one-million run — a world away from its usual 150,000 circulation, reports The Standard

Apple Daily also took down its website and pulled the plug on its social media channels.

Free press activists worry the paper’s censorship could mark the end of free expression in the region.

And so, around 4,000 articles are now reportedly preserved on decentralized file storage platform Arweave, which runs on blockchain tech.

As detailed by The Standard, Arweave echoes BitTorrent: it breaks files into smaller pieces and distributes them over a peer-to-peer network.

Participants contribute disk space and validate the state of data shared by the network. This ensures information — like Apple Daily articles — can’t be edited, misrepresented, or deleted.

Arweave is considered a competitor to the more established InterPlanetary File System protocol (along with its “incentive layer” Filecoin).

Apple Daily critiqued China’s Communist party

Apple Daily has long served as a beacon for both free speech and unrestricted press in Hong Kong.

Founded by media-slash-clothing mogul Jimmy Lai in 1995, the paper was first a sensationalist tabloid.

It gradually shifted to no holds barred coverage of city officials, earning admirers for frequent criticism of China’s Communist party and its Hong Kong allies.

Lai was arrested and jailed in 2020 for his role in pro-democracy protests across 2019 and 2020. He was sentenced to 14 months’ prison in April.

Now, controversial national security laws enacted in June 2020 enabled Chinese authorities to silence his paper Apple Daily.

  • Beijing now wields greater power to silence dissenting voices.
  • The laws dictate 66 articles covering offences from terrorism to damaging public transport.
  • Many fear the Hong Kong is creeping to a legal system akin to mainland China.

According to authorities, dozens of Apple Daily articles violated the new law.

China’s actions have attracted widespread rebuke, not just from within Hong Kong but from around the world.

[Read more: BitMEX eyes another half-floor in Hong Kong’s priciest office building]

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab labeled the situation a “chilling blow to freedom of expression in Hong Kong.”

All this is despite China’s promises to protect certain freedoms in Hong Kong when the nation gained independence from Britain in 1997.

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