West urged to fight against ‘dire’ state of press freedom in HK
Heavy-handed government action, self-censorship and physical threats against journalists have left Hong Kong’s media freedoms in a “dire” state, a UK-based campaign group said Tuesday.
Hong Kong Watch urged Western countries to defend journalists in the former British territory, including by offering them visas to relocate and outlets for Cantonese-language programming overseas.
The governments of both Hong Kong and China were guilty of “dismantling media freedom in Hong Kong”, in part through a sweeping National Security Law imposed by Beijing in 2020, the group said in a new report.
“The situation for media freedom in Hong Kong is dire,” it said.
“The international community must not allow those responsible for these violations to get away with impunity and without consequence.”
At the report’s launch in the UK parliament, opposition Labour MP Catherine West said Hong Kong journalists, trades unionists and rights activists who have fled faced Chinese intimidation overseas.
Citing pressure on Russia over Ukraine, Hong Kong Watch said one response could entail consumer boycotts of China-linked companies and targeted sanctions against leaders of the local government.
“Clearly, HSBC, Standard Chartered should be looking at some form of consumer pressure on them,” the group’s chief Benedict Rogers said, referring to two of Hong Kong’s biggest banks.
The report’s contributors also hit out after Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCCHK) on Monday scrapped its annual human rights awards, citing fears it could be prosecuted for crossing “new red lines” under the National Security Law.
Rogers, who has himself been threatened with prosecution under the law despite living in Britain, said he was “heartbroken” by the announcement.
“Never has being a journalist in Hong Kong been more dangerous than now,” added Rogers, citing a survey by the Hong Kong Journalists Association that found 141 journalists had suffered “serious police violence” when out covering protests.
– ‘Breathtakingly rapid destruction’ –
Former FCCHK president Steve Vines, who moved back to Britain last year after 35 years in Hong Kong, said China’s own foreign press club had never stopped speaking out on media freedom.
“So we could say the situation in Hong Kong is in some ways more uncertain and more terrifying than it is in Beijing,” Vines said at the report’s launch.
“I never thought I would say that with any form of confidence.”
The Hong Kong Watch report detailed violence against reporters also by pro-Beijing thugs, a climate of fear in newsrooms and arrests under a wider crackdown against pro-democracy campaigners.
RTHK, a once-respected broadcaster modelled on the BBC, had become “simply a government propaganda outlet”, it said.
Pro-Beijing media outlets had benefited under the government’s crackdown, which has also seen the police redefine who qualifies as a journalist and envisages a new law against so-called “fake news”, it said.
Azzurra Moores, UK campaigns officer for Reporters Without Borders, said the pressure group’s upcoming “world press freedom index” next week would show “the most dramatic shift” by any country or territory ever seen for Hong Kong.
Vines, who presented an array of programmes for RTHK, said the territory had undergone a “breathtakingly rapid destruction of freedoms”.
Hong Kong’s fate was “a vital reminder to the rest of the world of the dangers posed by the Communist regime as it spreads its influence in the international community”, he wrote in the report.