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Dire State of Press Freedom in Hong Kong

With new media constraints and an unchecked legislature, Hong Kong’s once vibrant press landscape will soon resemble its anti-free press counterpart in China. 

When Beijing took control of Hong Kong in 1997, it promised citizens that civil liberties like freedom of the press would be preserved for the next 50 years. Much of this promise was kept until Xi came into power in 2013 when the CCP upped its control over the media and the price for those who disobeyed. 

In 2020, China imposed its national security law, which subjects pro-democracy voices to torture and undue legal processes. Dozens of journalists have been detained and indicted under the law since. 

On March 19, the Hong Kong Legislative Council unanimously passed legislation, further cracking down on opposition to the Beijing and Hong Kong governments. The legislation, known as Article 23, imposes life imprisonment for vague offenses such as treason and external interference. This policy endangers journalists and further strains the freedom of the press.

Only a few weeks after Article 23 went into effect, a Reporters Without Borders representative investigating the state of press freedom in Hong Kong was detained at the airport and denied entry to the city. Security forces apparently want to suppress knowledge of Hong Kong’s restrictive media landscape.

The Hong Kong legislature debated Article 23 for only 11 days before passing the resolution. This is no surprise since the majority of the legislative body was elected in a 2020 district election that China required to be between “patriots only.” Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader John Lee can now “bow” to Xi Jinping’s demands and citizens cannot interfere. 

The vague language of recent laws, the Hong Kong government’s pro-Beijing position, and Xi’s rising power leave journalists vulnerable to manipulation and arbitrary discretion. 

The Hong Kong government froze the assets of independent media outlets Apple Daily and Stand News in 2021, forcing them to close, and placed Stand’s senior editors on trial for sedition. 

Another “Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China” has been a new credential system in which journalists must pass a WeChat exam that demonstrates their obedience to Xi and the goals of the People’s Republic of China. Article 23 and the 2020 national security law informally bind Hong Kong journalists to conform to the same propaganda. With Hong Kong’s media under state control and independent outlets disappearing, it will become more difficult for the international community to learn of these injustices and see the unfolding of Hong Kong’s fate.

Today’s Hong Kong is a far cry from the city’s history of free citizens and outspoken journalists. Following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of pro-democracy protests in China, Hong Kong correspondents played a crucial role in transferring information and concepts, primarily in Chinese, to a broader audience. Hong Kong was also a rare site for people to commemorate Tiananmen while China tried to stifle its remembrance.

Maya Wang, the acting China director for Human Rights Watch, argues, “The Chinese government wants the world to forget about Hong Kong, to forget what the city once was, to forget Beijing’s broken promises. But Hong Kong’s people will never forget.” 


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