Hong Kong authorities hit back at claims of ‘continuous attacks’ on press freedom after 24 countries sign statement accusing city of media curbs


The Hong Kong government has hit back at claims by 24 countries that local and mainland Chinese authorities have continuously attacked press freedom in the city, saying the joint statement was an attempt at slander.

In a rebuttal issued on Friday night, city authorities said the statement from the Media Freedom Coalition, which was signed by the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and 20 other countries, had “fact-twisting remarks and baseless smears” against the government’s efforts to safeguard press freedom.

“The law enforcement agencies of the [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] have been taking law enforcement actions based on evidence and strictly in accordance with the law in respect of the acts of the persons or organisations concerned, which have nothing to do with freedom of the press, or the background of any person or organisation,” a Hong Kong government spokesman said.

“Attempts by any foreign countries to undermine the rule of law in, and the prosperity and stability of, the [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region], by slandering the city’s situation will only expose the [country’s] own weakness and faulty arguments and be doomed to fail.”

Hong Kong police raid the office of Stand News in 2021. Photo: Sam Tsang

The coalition said the 24 countries that signed the statement were deeply concerned about Hong Kong and mainland authorities’ “continued attacks” on press freedom and their suppression of independent local media.

“Local media have intensified self-censorship since the imposition of the national security law in June 2020,” it said. “Prosecutions of media workers in connection with sedition legislation have increased.”

It added that Hong Kong’s prosecution of journalists, including those from online news portal Stand News and publishers such as the founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper, Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, had led to a chilling effect on others within the media industry.

“They come against the backdrop of loss of editorial independence, the barring of journalists seeking to cover government press briefings and the removal of material from public broadcasting archives,” the coalition said.

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Stand News ceased operations at the end of 2021 after police arrested seven people linked to the online news portal, including former and incumbent editors who were then charged with publishing seditious materials.

Lai allegedly violated the national security law and is standing trial for sedition and two conspiracy charges relating to collusion with foreign forces for allegedly drawing international sanctions against authorities and inciting public hatred in the wake of anti-government protests in 2019.

In 2021, public broadcaster RTHK announced it would remove new stories and programmes from its website and social media accounts a year after they first aired.

The coalition urged Hong Kong and mainland authorities to abide by their international human rights commitments and legal obligations and to preserve the city’s high degree of autonomy and respect for universal rights and freedoms.

“Freedom of the press has been central to Hong Kong’s success for many years … The free flow and exchange of opinions and information is vital to Hong Kong’s people, business and international reputation,” it said.

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The spokesman for the Hong Kong government said media organisations in the city were able to exercise press freedom in accordance with the law, but such freedom was not absolute and was restrained by law to safeguard national security and public order.

“As always, the media can exercise their freedom of the press in accordance with the law. Their freedom of commenting on and criticising government policies remains uninhibited as long as this is not in violation of the law,” he said.

The government statement also said the city’s law enforcement agencies had taken action against the acts of individuals or organisations based on evidence and the law, which had nothing to do with their backgrounds or press freedom.

It added that the city’s media environment remained vibrant, saying there were 213 mainland, foreign and local news agencies registered for government news services.


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