Amid shrinking press freedom, Hong Kong journalists in need of more international support
Three years after the enactment of the National Security Law in Hong Kong, a Reporters Without Borders (RSF) delegation undertook a mission to the territory to assess journalists’ safety needs and strengthen the organisation’s capacity-building and emergency assistance programmes.
As the last Covid-19 restrictions have recently been lifted in Hong Kong, a Reporters Without Borders (RSF) delegation composed of East Asia Bureau Director Cédric Alviani and Advocacy Officer Aleksandra Bielakowska undertook a mission to Hong Kong from 18 to 21 June 2023. Their aim was to assess the needs of journalists in terms of safety three years after the enactment of the draconian National Security Law, a regulation adopted by Beijing to silence independent voices in the former British colony. The delegation also attended a hearing of the trial for “seditious publications” of two former editors-in-chief of Stand News, a media outlet the authorities forced to shut down in 2021.
“Despite the government’s severe moves to restrict press freedom, Hong Kong still counts thousands of journalists who strive to provide news to the world. This mission allowed us to better understand the new threats they face, namely intimidation and legal harassment, which will enable us to provide them with more comprehensive support.
The RSF delegation met with dozens of journalists, foreign correspondents and local media experts from a wide range of organisations. The meetings showcased rising government pressure, a growing difficulty accessing sources, and a worrying increase of self-censorship. Media professionals also expressed concerns regarding the government’s plans to enshrine national security provisions in the Basic Law through the amendment of Article 23, which would make it even easier to target independent voices.
This was the first mission carried out by RSF in Hong Kong since 2019, as the special administrative region of China had adopted very strict entry restrictions to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, the last of which were only lifted two months ago. However, during this period, RSF has developed an ambitious capacity-building and assistance programme that has already benefited more than 500 journalists covering China.
Over the past three years, in line with Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s crusade against journalism, the Hong Kong government has prosecuted at least 28 media workers and press freedom defenders, 13 of whom remain in detention. The government also forcibly shut down independent daily newspapers Apple Daily and Stand News, while six other media outlets had no other choice but disband due to pressure.
Hong Kong ranks 140th out of 180 in RSF’s 2023 World Press Freedom Index, having plummeted down from 18th place in the span of two decades. China itself ranks 179th out of 180 countries and territories evaluated.