Hong Kong Media Crackdown Aims to Silence Free Speech

By Teresa Zhang
Teresa Zhang
Teresa Zhang
July 1, 2021 Updated: July 2, 2021

With its 100th anniversary quickly approaching, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) fortifies its media suppression in Hong Kong where Chinese authorities arrested another former Apple Daily editor on June 27, after forcing the newspaper to shut down.

Fearing repercussions from the state, many Hong Kong internet media and political affairs commentators decided to self-censor or shut down their content channels and social media accounts altogether.

The Hong Kong Journalist Association strongly condemned the authorities for their targeting of journalists, describing it as a “media blackout” using terror.

New Chief Secretary for Administration Picked by Beijing

With the CCP’s July 1 anniversary approaching, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam led a delegation of 70 to Beijing on June 28 to attend celebrations. During Lam’s absence, the newly appointed Chief Secretary for Administration, Li Jiachao, will serve as the interim Chief Executive.

Just three days prior, on June 25, the CCP’s State Council removed the former Chief Secretary for Administration, Zhang Jianzong, and promoted Li Jiachao to the post, making him the second in command in Hong Kong. Li is the former head of the Security Bureau and was known for suppressing the 2019-20 Hong Kong protests, forcing Apple Daily to cease publication, and freezing its funds. Li’s promotion marked the beginning of Hong Kong’s “police rule.”

Another Apple Daily Chief Editor Arrested

After forcing Apple Daily to shut down, the police arrested Feng Weiguang—better known by his author name Lu Feng—the former chief editor of Apple Daily, at the airport on June 27.

Unlike the earlier arrest of Yang Qingqi, another former Apple Daily chief editor, the police arrested Feng Weiguang in broad daylight.

A Hong Kong YouTuber, John Connor, suggests that the police could have arrested Feng anytime with their so-called “evidence of foreign collusion.”

“But why did they have to arrest him at the Hong Kong International Airport in broad daylight?” Connor asked.

Conner believes that the Hong Kong police and the CCP want to create an atmosphere of terror and a deterrent for journalists who voice opposition. The message they want to send is that “you may be safe if you don’t go to the airport, but as soon as you go to the airport, you may be arrested.”

Hong Kong’s Press Freedom Lost

The Hong Kong Journalist Association condemned the police for its repeated arrests of journalists and demanded that the police immediately admit its wrongdoing. In a statement on June 28, the Association emphasized that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are Hong Kong’s core values.

“Hong Kong will hardly be regarded as an international city,” the statement said, while questioning how an ordinary person’s piece of pen and ink could “collude with foreign forces,” and how it could “endanger national security.”

The Journalist Association also pointed out that the recent series of incidents against freedom of speech has almost completely wiped out freedom of the press in Hong Kong.

“When Hong Kong is left with one voice, and only the rich and powerful prevail, will international companies still trust this land? Can Hong Kong still serve as an international financial center?”

In a second statement on the evening of June 28, the Journalist Association expressed concern about the “white terror” of self-censorship looming over the news industry, saying there has been a “hurricane of self-censorship” in the media industry since Apple Daily ceased publication, and Hong Kong is less and less civilized, while freedom of speech is being eroded.

Former Editor Deletes Videos, ‘Adapts to Situation’

Hong Kong media professionals are taking precautions while faced with political repression.

Yuan Yaoqing, the founder of the “852 Post” and former deputy editor-in-chief of Hong Kong Economic Journal, removed all video posts on YouTube on June 28. Yuan issued an apology statement, saying “the situation has changed abruptly,” and because he was staying in Hong Kong, he had to “adapt to the situation.” He also uploaded an apology video on YouTube in which he repeatedly said that he is “sincerely sorry.”

Yuan mentioned the arrest of Feng Weiguang, the former chief editor of Apple Daily, and changes at Stand News, saying the political climate in Hong Kong has taken a turn for the worse.

He also said that he would be communicating in a new format, and although he may not speak out like in the old days, he will voice Hong Kong’s state of affairs “with subtlety,” adding that he wishes to carry on the Hong Kong spirit despite the restricted environment.

Yuan established the “852 Post” in 2013 under the pseudonym You Qingyuan. The company had more than 20 employees. On May 14 of this year, Yuan suspended the business due to concerns about the “National Security Law” and financial problems. He laid off the remaining six employees and continued to work as an individual journalist.

Political Cartoonist Shuts Down Facebook Page

Huang Zhaoda, a political cartoonist with over 20,000 followers, suspended his 10-year Facebook page “Huang Zhaoda Comics.”

Huang said on Facebook that he was deeply saddened to see the column by Stand News taken down and the arrest of Apple Daily’s Lu Feng.

Initially, Huang said he thought he was not at immediate risk, and even though he had fear, he still had to maintain his livelihood. But pretty soon he decided to shut down his comic page temporarily, as he felt that “all plausible analyses of journalist safety are meaningless.”

Another Facebook page that has become unavailable is Zhou Ting’s, a former member of Demosisto, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy political organization. It’s currently unknown whether Zhou had deleted the page herself.

Winandmac Media Withdraws from Hong Kong

Winandmac Media, a digital media company operating since 2010, also issued a notice on its Facebook page on June 28, stating that it decided to withdraw from Hong Kong because of security concerns.

The announcement cited the closure of Apple Daily as the trigger point and also mentioned the changes occurring at Stand News. Winandmac, like other media, has often been subjected to unknown intimidation and threats. Stating that there no longer is any press freedom in Hong Kong, after careful consideration, Winandmac initiated its withdrawal from Hong Kong. Since then, all its funds have left Hong Kong.

Hong Kong and Taiwan TV and Radio Programs Terminated

Several popular Hong Kong and Taiwan talk-show programs have also been taken off the air.

The widely acclaimed programs “Five Nights Lecture” and “Viewpoint 31” were terminated from TV programs. On June 28, “Viewpoint 31” was no longer available in the latest scheduled programs of Hong Kong and Taiwan. The time slot was replaced by an old episode of “University Questions.”

Current affairs commentator Leung Kai Chi posted on Facebook on June 28 that he received a notice of termination of the “Five Nights Lecture” program in Hong Kong and Taiwan, although he was scheduled to be on the show.

Allan Au, a veteran media personnel and host of the Radio Hong Kong program “Free Wind Free Phone,” also stopped hosting on June 28. After serving as host for 11 years, he said goodbye to his listeners at the end of the last show while choking up. Au said that his shows had aimed to “tell the facts and the reason,” and he hoped to continue hearing different opinions.

Stand News and Others Trying to Hold the Line

After Apple Daily’s forced closure on June 27, the owners of Hong Kong media Stand News were also mentally preparing for the possible freezing of funds by the authorities.

On June 27, Stand News announced that it would stop accepting sponsorships and monthly subscription fees from members. It also announced that it would temporarily remove commentary articles such as blog posts, reprinted articles, and reader contributions published before June of this year. The six directors of the parent company accepted the proposal and resigned.

Stand News then renewed its employment contract with employees who have been with the company for more than six months. The renewal is an attempt to protect its employees in case of forced closure, like what happened to Apple Daily. In the process, Stand News employees received generous settlements in addition to the renewal contracts. Stand News intends to keep most of its employees and continue to operate for however long they can.

Some opposition media continue to hold the line. Zhong Jianhua, the deputy chief executive of the Hong Kong Institute of Public Opinion, keeps on writing commentaries on current affairs despite suppression. Zhong used to write articles for Apple Daily’s Monday column. He wrote a total of 256 pieces. After Apple Daily shut down, he still wrote for the column on June 28, published it on Facebook, and allowed others to share it.

Teresa Zhang
Teresa Zhang