June 29, 2021 - Updated on September 3, 2021

National Security Law in Hong Kong: press freedom in grave danger after a year of endless attacks

The National Security Law imposed by Beijing just a year ago has been used to justify multiple abuses in Hong Kong, including the detention of journalists and the shutdown of Apple Daily newspaper. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on democracies to step up pressure on the Chinese regime to prevent it from dismantling what remains of press freedom in the territory.

Just a year ago, on the 30th of June, 2020, the Beijing regime adopted the so-called National Security Law which targeted Hong Kong specifically. This deliberately vague and catch-all text was supposed to faciliate the fight against “terrorism”, “secession”, “subversion” and “interference of foreign powers”, four crimes punishable by the death sentence in the Mainland and frequently used against journalists. A year later, the worst fears of Hong Kong-based journalists and freedom defenders were proven to be true and at least ten of them have been arrested under this law and are facing life sentences  (see chronology below). 

To date, five of them are still currently detained: Apple Daily founder and 2020 RSF Press Freedom Awards laureate Jimmy Lai, its Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law, its CEO Cheung Kim-hung, former legislator and journalist Claudia Mo and former journalist and activist Gwyneth Ho. This egregious regulation also justified, at the end of June, the freezing of Apple Daily’s financial assets, hence forced to cease all its activity.

“It has been one year since the Chinese regime and the Hong Kong government imposed the National Security Law to justify, under the appearance of legality, the dismantling of press freedom and the persecution of journalists and commentators who displease them” says Cédric Alviani, RSF East Asia bureau head, who calls on democracies “to put more pressure on the Chinese regime to end its authoritarian policies and ensure the restoration of press freedom, a right enshrined in the constitution of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and in the Basic Law which governs Hong Kong.”

Chronology: one year of prosecuting press freedom defenders in Hong Kong

  • 30th June, 2020: The National Security Law comes into force.
  • 10th August, 2020: In parallel to a 200-police-officer raid on Apple Daily's headquarters, its founder Jimmy Lai is arrested for “collusion with foreign forces” and later released on bail.
  • 6th January, 2021: Stand News' former journalist and activist, Gwyneth Ho is arrested under suspicion of “conspiracy to commit subversion” and later denied bail. 
  • 28th February, 2021: Former legislator and press freedom defender Claudia Mo is detained and charged for “conspiracy to commit subversion” and denied bail.
  • 16th April, 2021: Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai is charged with his second offense under the National Security Law, " conspiracy to collude with foreign forces ", and sentenced to one year and two months in prison for unrelated charges.
  • 17th June, 2021: After another police raid on Apple Daily and the arrest of five senior staff, the government freezes the media outlet's assets, forcing it to cease operations a week later.
  • 23rd June, 2021: Police arrest Apple Daily columnist, Yeung Ching-kee (alias Li Ping), for “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces, who is later released on a bail.
  • 27th June, 2021: Police arrest Apple Daily ' s senior journalist, Fung Wai-kong, for “collusion to endanger national security,” who is later released on a bail.

RSF submitted two urgent appeals urging the UN to “take all necessary measures” to safeguard press freedom in Hong Kong and obtain the immediate release of the Hong Kong media outlet Apple Daily founder and 2020 RSF Press Freedom Awards laureate, Jimmy Lai.

Hong Kong, once a bastion of press freedom, has fallen from 18th place in 2002 to 80th place in the 2021 RSF World Press Freedom Index . The People's Republic of China, for its part, ranks 177th out of 180.