Hong Kong: Under the National Security Law, no journalist in the world is free from China’s violent retribution

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges democracies to do everything in their power to compel Beijing to withdraw the law that allows it to charge any journalist writing on Hong Kong of endangering national security, an accusation that can result in life imprisonment, or even the death penalty if tried in China.

On June 30th, in blatant violation of its international agreements, Beijing went through with the introduction of its national security law in Hong Kong which deems "terrorist activities”, “secession”, “subversion” and “collusion with a foreign country” punishable by life imprisonment, or even by the death penalty if the case were tried in China. This punishment is applicable to all journalists regardless of where in the world they are based. In China, most of the 114 journalists and press freedom defenders currently detained have been arrested or sentenced on similar accusations.

"This grotesque regulation, that is widely open to interpretation, not only gives the Beijing regime a tool to harass and punish journalists in Hong Kong under appearances of legality, but it also allows China to intimidate and threaten news commentators abroad with incarceration, says Cédric Alviani, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia bureau head, who calls on democracies "to take immediate action to prevent Beijing from stifling Hong Kong’s press freedom and establishing the ‘new world media order’ it has been pursuing.” 

This new law, just as ambiguous and vague in its original Chinese version as the English translation, has entered into force immediately after its enactment and has the potential to be applied to any journalist writing on Hong Kong, no matter whether or not they are based in the territory (Article 38). In the case of trial in Hong Kong, journalists face consequences as severe as life imprisonment and, although the word "extradition" is never mentioned, the law reserves the possibility for trials to be conducted in the People's Republic of China, where crimes against national security are punishable by the death penalty (Article 55). The law also reserves the right for certain trials to be held out of the media and public gaze (Article 41).

Under these “catch-all” crimes, the writers of Headliner, a satirical television show recently cut from the public media group Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) for mocking the police, could have been charged with the crime of “subversion”. Victor Mallet, Asia news editor for the Financial Times, who was expelled from Hong Kong in 2018 for having served as a moderator at a debate held by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club featuring a pro-independence activist, could have been accused of promoting "secession". The journalists Ma Kai-chung and Wong Ka-ho, who currently face charges of rioting for documenting the brief occupation of the Legislative Council building last year, could have been charged with "terrorist activities". 

In order to enforce the new law, the Beijing regime plans to establish an Office for Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong (Article 48) in charge of supervising the media and the activity of foreign correspondents (Article 54). It also plans to create a Committee for Safeguarding National Security (Article 12) operating out of the jurisdiction of local courts (Article 14) and that therefore will be able to freely engage in intimidation and surveillance of journalists and their sources.

Hong Kong, a former bastion of press freedom, has fallen from 18th place in the World Press Freedom Index in 2002 when the Index was first created, to its current positioning in 80th place; the People’s Republic of China remains near the bottom of the index, ranking 177th out of 180 countries and territories.

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Updated on 02.07.2020