Report – Radio Free Asia

Press freedom in Hong Kong is “in tatters” following the forced closure of the Apple Daily and arrests of columnists under the National Security Act, the city’s Journalists Association said Thursday.

Press freedom in the city has been increasingly affected by the political “red lines” established after the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) imposed its national security law on the city from July 1. 2020, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA} said in an annual report.

It listed the arrest of pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai for “collusion with foreign powers,” an upcoming law banning “fake news,” government control over RTHK-broadcast content and the arrest of a journalist for researching a public database. for car license plates for a documentary.

He also referred to the forced closure of the Apple Daily after its bank accounts were frozen and its columnists and senior officials were arrested on the same charges as Lai.

“HKJA is [concerned] … on the erosion of freedom and the damage to the diverse media scene, “the group said in a statement posted on its website launching the report.

“The roundup of media professionals also damages the city’s international reputation, especially when Hong Kong prides itself on its free flow of information and free exchange of ideas,” he said.

The group called on the National People’s Congress (NPC) of China to review the implementation of the National Security Law and amend it to ensure press freedom.

He also called on the administration of Hong Kong Managing Director Carrie Lam to suspend the bill banning “fake news” and disinformation, and on the police to stop defining who is a journalist in an attempt to report major public events.

“The government should [also] stop pressuring the RTHK and respect its editorial autonomy, ”the HKJA said.

Definitions, unclear guidelines

HKJA Chairman Ronson Chan said it was difficult for reporters to find a way to avoid trouble, given the vagueness of definitions in the National Security Act and considerable official flexibility in their interpretation. .

“We really want to know what issues will be seen as crossing those red lines when we are reporting, writing commentary or discussing something,” Chan said.

“Is this going to happen if we discuss anything to do with sanctions or independence?”

“We heard the [government] say these crimes are comparable to murders or arson, and yet they cannot clearly tell us where the red lines are, ”he said. “This is something that causes great concern among journalists and citizens. “

Chan said new legislation in the pipeline banning “fake news” is another cause for concern.

Hong Kong Police Chief Raymond Siu called on June 26 for a law banning “fake news”, echoing Lam’s earlier comments.

Former HKJA chairman Chris Yeung says press freedom in Hong Kong has been “destroyed by totalitarianism” in a process dating back to the cross-border arrests of five Hong Kong booksellers in 2015 .

“They managed to shut down a media outlet right there, before the trials even started,” Yeung said. “It’s pretty clear that the National Security Law is being used in a destructive way to undermine press freedom.”

The HKJA’s 2020 Hong Kong Press Freedom Index was at an all-time high, the group said.

“The main reason for this decline is that journalists are more careful than ever when they criticize the [Hong Kong] government and central government, and managed put more pressure on them, ”the report said.

Three crucial indicators, including the adequacy of legal guarantees for journalists’ free access to information, the capacity of the media to act as a watchdog and the diversity of viewpoints in the city’s media, were all relevant. fell sharply, the HKJA said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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