Radio Free Asia to close Hong Kong bureau citing safety concerns News
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Radio Free Asia to close Hong Kong bureau citing safety concerns

Radio Free Asia’s (RFA) president, Bay Fang, announced Friday that the news organization has already closed its Hong Kong bureau and will “no longer have full-time personnel in Hong Kong” due to safety concerns after the enactment of the Safeguarding National Security Ordinance.

The statement cited actions by Hong Kong authorities, who have referred to RFA as a “foreign force,” raising serious questions over the safety of RFA and its reporters. Previously, in February, during the consultation period, the Secretary for Security, Chris Tang, stated that RFA is financially supported by the US Congress, with RFA clarifying that it is a private non-profit news outlet that receives a grant from the US Agency for Global Media. The station is set to be out of its Hong Kong office by the end of the month. Fang ended her statement with reassurance to RFA’s audience, “[f]or our audiences in Hong Kong and mainland China, who rely on RFA’s timely, uncensored journalism: rest assured, our programming and content will continue without disruption.”

After RFA announced its withdrawal from Hong Kong, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Asia-Pacific Bureau Director Cédric Alviani claimed that its withdrawal reflects the chilling effect on media outlets posed by the ordinance. RSF also claimed that Hong Kong authorities have accused several foreign media outlets of “fact-twisting.” These outlets include the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), The Guardian, The Washington Post, The New York Times and Bloomberg.

Hong Kong passed the Safeguarding National Security Ordinance on March 19, commonly known as the “Article 23 legislation.” The bill, passed unanimously by 89 legislators, makes treason, insurrection and sabotage punishable by up to life in prison. Chief Executive John Lee called the bill “a historic moment for Hong Kong” and said that it would prevent “infiltration and sabotage by hostile foreign forces.”

Despite the government’s repeated reassurances, the international community has raised concerns about the impact of the legislation on human rights. Previously, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, stated that the provisions “readily lead to self-censorship and chilling of legitimate speech and conduct.” Türk further stated concerns about the chilling effect on engagement with human rights organizations and UN human rights bodies brought by the broad “external force” definition under the “external interference” provisions.

US Representative Gregory Meeks, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the law “not only represents a significant escalation in efforts by Hong Kong and Beijing authorities to suppress free speech and expression…also undermines media freedom and the public’s ability to obtain fact-based information.” Apart from the international community, the Hong Kong Journalists Association also suggested that the criminal provisions regarding sedition, disclosure of state secrets, and external interference create a significant negative impact on press freedoms.

The government denied the validity of such fears and said “normal journalists” would not accidentally violate Article 23. The Hong Kong Federation of Journalists also cited the government data, claiming that there are 213 registered media outlets in Hong Kong, 39 percent more than that in 2018. Relatedly, the spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry Commissioner’s Office also wrote to the Wall Street Journal, claiming that Article 23 legislation is modeled after common law jurisdictions and fits the reality of Hong Kong. The spokesperson further stated that “media alarmism is no surprise.”