Hong Kong Leader Denies City’s Press Freedom Faces ‘Extinction’ After Closure of 2 Media Outlets

By Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang
journalist
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers US, China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
January 4, 2022 Updated: January 4, 2022

Pro-Beijing Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam claimed that press freedom was still there in her city, after two local independent media outlets shut down in recent days, following a police clampdown against one of them in late December.

“This morning I read news about, because of the closure of online medium, press freedom in Hong Kong faces extinction … I just cannot accept that sort of allegations,” Lam said during her weekly press conference on Jan. 4.

“Journalists and media organizations, like all of us, have to respect and comply with the law,” Lam added, before adding that Hong Kong was not “suppressing press freedom” but acting “in accordance with the law.”

On Dec. 29, over 200 national security police officers raided the office of Stand News, marking the second local media outlet to be raided by Hong Kong police in 2021. In June last year, 500 police officers raided local newspaper Apple Daily’s headquarters, and the daily printed its last edition less than 10 days later.

The police also arrested Stand News’ six current and former executives, accusing them of engaging in a “conspiracy to publish seditious publications.” Four of them, all former board members including popular Hong Kong singer Denise Ho, have since been released on bail. Two others—including former chief editor Chung Pui-kuen—remain in custody after being charged with sedition and denied bail on Dec. 30.

Hours after the raid, Stand News announced that it would be ending its operation. The raid has since sparked international condemnation.

On Jan. 2, Citizen News announced that it would stop updating its website on Jan. 4 due to the “deterioration of the media environment.” The media outlet’s chief writer, Chris Yeung, told reporters on Monday that the decision to shut down was made because staff at the outlet “can no longer clearly grasp the lines of law enforcement.”

Currently, Stand News’ website is inaccessible and Citizen News carries a brief message on its website thanking its readers and telling them goodbye.

Hong Kong Journalists Association, in a statement released on Jan. 3, said it was “heartbroken” over Citizen News’ decision to shut down. It said it will urge the Hong Kong government to implement the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, to safeguard the city’s press freedom.

Also during the press conference, Lam rejected the idea that it was Beijing’s national security law that was squeezing media outlets out of operation.

“If the implementation of the national security law would undermine press freedom, then we would not see any press freedom in the Western world. You name me which Western country does not have national security law,” Lam said.

The national security law, which went into effect in the summer of 2020, criminalizes vaguely defined crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong, in a poll published in November last year, found that 84 percent said the city’s working environment for journalists has deteriorated since the implementation of the national security law.

“Many of my sources are now in jail. Some have fled abroad,” one unnamed respondent told the poll.

The respondent added, “Others now refuse to comment to foreign media, based on advice from their lawyers or out of—very justifiable—fear that speaking to a foreign journalist could aid a prosecutor’s case against them under the national security law.”

Nabila Massrali, spokeswoman for the European External Action Service, the European Union’s foreign affairs body, took to Twitter to say that the closure of Citizen News was another example of the “deteriorating environment for independent media” in Hong Kong.

“Press freedom has suffered from a continuous erosion since the imposition of the National Security Law,” Massrali added.

“The EU recalls #China’s international commitments under the Hong Kong Basic Law to respect its high degree of autonomy and rights and freedoms, including freedom of the press.”

U.S. Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticized the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in a Twitter post.

“Recent #CCP crackdowns in #HongKong on press freedoms, including shutting down Stand News & Citizen News, make clear what we knew all along: #Beijing has no intention of allowing Hong Kong to exist as anything other than the totalitarian state #China has become under #XiJinping,” the senator wrote.

Reuters contributed to this article.

Frank Fang
journalist
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers US, China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.