Twenty-five years after handover to China, Hong Kong press freedom more threatened than ever
A quarter of a century after the handover of British Hong Kong to China, independent journalism has never been so threatened. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the international community to apply more pressure on the Chinese regime to restore full press freedom in the territory.
As 1st July 2022 marks the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), press freedom in the former British colony, once one of the most outstanding in Asia, is more threatened than ever. Over the past year, the Hong Kong government forcibly shut down two independent media, Apple Daily and Stand News. It has also prosecuted two dozen journalists and press freedom defenders. Thirteen of them are still being detained, including Apple Daily founder and 2020 RSF Press Freedom Prize laureate Jimmy Lai.
“The Hong Kong government has engaged in an unprecedented campaign against independent journalism in total disregard for the territory’s Basic Law which enshrines the principle of press freedom”, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia Bureau head, Cédric Alviani, who urges democracies to “increase pressure on the Beijing regime for it to end its authoritarian policies and to restore full press freedom in Hong Kong”.
In accordance with the 1997 Sino-British Joint Declaration, Hong Kong is governed autonomously until 2047 based on a mini-constitution called the Basic Law, under the “one country, two systems" principle. In the first two decades after handover, press freedom was generally respected despite Beijing taking control of some Chinese-language media and establishing an indirect pressure through advertisers.
In 2014, during the pro-democracy "Umbrella Movement", journalists were for the first time the target of violence by the police and pro-Beijing supporters. In 2019, during the “anti-extradition” bill demonstrations, violence further intensified and hundreds of journalists were victims of police brutality. On 30th June 2020, the situation worsened with the adoption by the Chinese regime of a National Security Law that punishes with a life sentence the crimes of “terrorism”, “secession”, “subversion”, and “colluding with foreign forces”.
In a report titled The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China, published in December 2021, RSF revealed the system of censorship and information control established by the Chinese regime in Mainland China and Hong Kong and the global threat it poses to press freedom and democracy.
Hong Kong, once a bastion of press freedom, has plummeted from 80th last year to 148th in the 2022 RSF World Press Freedom Index. The People's Republic of China, for its part, ranks 175th out of 180 countries and territories evaluated.