A new report released Tuesday warns that press freedom in Hong Kong has been almost entirely curtailed by a government crackdown, creating a space for pro-Beijing, pro-government media.
The report, from UK-based advocacy group Hong Kong Watch, is based on interviews with journalists currently in exile and reports by Hong Kong press associations. The crackdown, which began in 2019, has led to almost all independent and pro-democracy media outlets to close. Eighteen journalists have been arrested under the National Security Law of 2020, with at least twelve currently in jail awaiting trial. Public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) has lost its editorial independence, and has had its archive and Twitter history scrubbed.
There are restrictions on access to public records and a new police definition of “journalist” which effectively restricts freelance, online, student, and citizen journalists. Foreign correspondents are facing challenges acquiring or renewing visas, and the pro-government media sources attack and harass critics. All this contributes to a chilling effect on the reporting of the few remaining independent media outlets.
The report recommends several actions that the international community can take in response to the crackdown. These include increased monitoring of the situation in the city, demanding the release of journalists and media executives currently in prison, engaging with international mechanisms such as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion, issuing emergency travel documents for journalists at risk for arrest, and even punitive measures against the Hong Kong government including targeted sanctions.
Chief Executive of Hong Kong Watch and author of the report Benedict Rogers called freedom of the press “a fundamental pillar of any free, open society,” and urged the international community to “help brave journalists who continue to take risks to do their jobs in Hong Kong.” He also urged that “those responsible for dismantling Hong Kong’s press freedom face consequences and are not allowed to get away with impunity.”