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September 1, 2020

Hong Kong caught in Chinese practices of visa weaponisation against the press

PHOTO: HONG KONG FREE PRESS
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounces the extension of the Chinese practice of weaponising journalist visas to Hong Kong and condemns the denial of a work visa requested by independent media Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP).

On 25th August, the Hong Kong immigration office rejected without reason a work visa application filed six months ago by independent media Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) for Aaron Mc Nicholas, an editor they wished to recruit, originally from Ireland. In May, the authorities had rejected a visa application made by New York Times correspondent Chris Buckley after he was expelled from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In 2018, the Hong Kong government also expelled Financial Times journalist, Victor Mallet, after he moderated a debate that Beijing disapproved of.


“The extension in Hong Kong of the Chinese regime’s practice of visa weaponisation, intended to intimidate foreign journalists, is extremely concerning and in total contradiction with the principle of press freedom enshrined in the Basic Law”, insists Cédric Alviani, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia bureau head, who sees in this phenomenon “another sign of the recent acceleration of press freedom's decline after the passing, two months ago, of a National Security Law imposed by Beijing”.


The National Security Law allows the Chinese regime to directly intervene in the special administrative region of Hong Kong to suppress, with the appearance of legality, anything it deems to be “terrorism”, “secession”, “subversion” or “collusion with foreign forces”. On 10th August, Jimmy Lai, the founder of independent newspaper Apple Daily, was arrested at his home residence under the accusation of “colluding with foreign forces”, while two hundred police officers raided the news outlet’s headquarters.


Hong Kong Free Press, an independent non-profit English-language online newspaper founded in 2015 and backed by readers, extensively reported on last year’s Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, which may have irritated the pro-Beijing government.


In a joint statement published on 19th August, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and a coalition of NGOs expressed concern over the decline in freedoms in Hong Kong.


Hong Kong, once a bastion of press freedom, has dropped from 18th place in 2002 to 80th place in 2020 in the RSF World Press Freedom Index. The People's Republic of China, for its part, stagnated at 177th out of 180.