Next Media chairman Jimmy Lai Chi-ying blamed Beijing for an organised cyberattack which knocked the website of independent newspaper Apple Daily offline for many hours on Wednesday.

Readers were unable to reach the website from the early hours of Wednesday morning until late afternoon, after a series of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, during which the website’s servers were deliberately overwhelmed by a massive number of demands to access the site.

Lai said the cyberattack was evidence that Beijing wanted to silence voices supporting Occupy’s public vote on options for the chief executive election, to be held from June 20 to 22.

He said the attack would not influence Apple Daily’s editorial direction, and encouraged Hongkongers to vote in the public poll.

“There is no cause to be afraid. We will carry on with what we have been doing, with multimedia news, instant news…” Lai said.

“Don’t be scared everyone. Come out and vote on June 22.”

Apple Daily has given extensive and supportive coverage to the pro-democracy Occupy Central campaign and the public vote on options for the 2017 election.

All of the options on that ballot allow the public in some form to nominate candidates for the chief executive race, an idea strongly opposed by Beijing.

On Tuesday, the website used to coordinate the public vote was also knocked offline by a cyberattack.

Lai revealed that the Apple Daily website had been under attack for the past few days, before Wednesday’s attack led to a “total collapse”.

The Chinese-language newspaper is known for its independent editorial stance and has often been highly critical of the central government.

Last month a senior Next Media executive told the Sydney Morning Heraldthat HSBC and Standard Chartered had withdrawn advertising from the newspaper under pressure from pro-Beijing officials.

The banks said the advertising was withdrawn for commercial reasons.

In June last year a car rammed into Lai’s home and an axe and meat cleaver were left outside the front gate.

In the same month masked men burned bundles of the newspaper in two separate incidents in Hung Hom and Central.