“People in Hong Kong have the right to freedom of the press. Instead, Beijing is denying basic liberties and assaulting Hong Kong’s autonomy and democratic institutions,” he said in a statement.
Apple Daily had been “a much-needed bastion of independent journalism in Hong Kong,” he said.
“Through arrests, threats, and forcing through a National Security Law that penalises free speech, Beijing has insisted on wielding its power to suppress independent media and silence dissenting views,” President Biden said, vowing continued US support for the people of Hong Kong.
Responding to the statement, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a news conference on Friday: “The US leader’s position is factually baseless.”
Several other countries have also expressed concerns as Hong Kong’s last pro-democracy paper was forced to shut down after multiple arrests of editors and owners and assets frozen under the controversial national security law.
However, leaders in China and Hong Kong have repeatedly denied that media freedoms are being denied in the semi autonomous region. They have argued that press freedom isn’t an absolute right and cannot endanger national security.
China’s rebuttal of Mr Biden’s comments also hinted at increased US-China tensions.
Apple daily, a newspaper running for over two decades, sent its last edition of over one million copies for print on Thursday, after the company’s board decided to close down the newspaper this week. After the company’s assets were frozen following the imposition of a national security law, it had raised alarms that it may not be able to function longer.
On 17 June, a team of 500 police officers raided the newsroom, sifting through reporters’ notes and other material of the paper and arrested five people, including chief editor Ryan Law and Cheung Kim-hung and charged them with conspiracy to commit collusion with a foreign country. They were also denied bail. On Wednesday, a columnist of the company, whose identity was not revealed, was also arrested under the national security law.
The owner of the company, Jimmy Lai, was arrested by authorities last year. UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Thursday criticised the detention of Mr Lai.
Speaking to the 2021 Society of Publishers in Asia press awards ceremony held in Hong Kong, Bachelet said the national security law was leading journalists to self-censor to avoid clashing with "vaguely formulated offences."
Mr Lai has been in jail since December over unauthorised rallies during the pro-democracy protests in 2019. He is facing three national security charges, including colluding with a foreign country and is already serving several sentences for taking part in unauthorised rallies.
British foreign minister Dominic Raab called on China to respect its commitments to free media under an agreement with Britain over how Hong Kong would be ruled after its return from British rule to China in 1997.
Additional reporting by agencies