Hong Kong: Restrictions on civic space increase as independent media outlets are forced to close

  •  Prominent independent news site to cease operations 
  • Authorities using restrictive laws to silence the media 
  • The international community must take steps to restore fundamental freedoms

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, expresses deep concern over the recent crackdown against independent and pro-democracy media outlets in Hong Kong. The ongoing intimidation and judicial harassment against the media and journalists using restrictive laws are accelerating the deterioration of civic space in the territory. We call on the Hong Kong authorities to halt further attacks and take immediate steps to guarantee press freedom.

In a media statement, Citizen News, established in 2017 as an independent non-profit Chinese news site advocating for press freedom, decided to cease its operation effectively from 4 January 2022. It cited the worrying environment for press freedom in Hong Kong and the safety and security of its staff as the reasons.

The decision was prompted by the recent attack against Stand News, one of the most prominent independent pro-democracy media in Hong Kong. On Wednesday, 29 December 2021, the Hong Kong police raided the premises, froze its assets and arrested seven people associated with the news site on suspicion of sedition. Police also confiscated boxes of information and computers from the offices of Stand News, using a court warrant issued under the draconian national security law (NSL), which allows officers to seize journalistic materials.

Among those arrested are the former senior editor Chung Pui-ken and his wife, acting chief editor Patrick Lam, and four former members of the Stand News board. While the rest have been released on bail, Chung Pui-ken and Patrick Lam were denied bail and subsequently charged with conspiring 'to publish and/or reproduce seditious publications' in contravention of sections 9 and 10 of the colonial-era Crimes Ordinance.

"We are appalled by the continuous raids and arrests by the authorities targeting independent media in Hong Kong. These incidents will stifle press freedom and further erode civic freedom and democracy that the national security law has constantly challenged. It is clearly in contravention of international human rights law and Hong Kong's obligation to protect the fundamental freedoms of its people," Cornelius Hanung, Asia Advocacy and Campaigns Officer of CIVICUS.

In June 2021, the authorities raided the office of the most prominent independent media, Apple Daily and subsequently charged its founder, Jimmy Lai, and six former staff with "conspiring to collude with foreign powers" under the draconian national security law (NSL). Additional sedition charges were brought against them in December 2021. Apple Daily, Stand News and Citizen News were the only remaining local independent pro-democracy media outlets in the territory.

The adoption of the Beijing-imposed NSL in 2020, which criminalises four types of activities, namely secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with "foreign forces," have significantly suppressed civic freedoms in Hong Kong. In a previous statement, CIVICUS expressed grave concern about the closure of several prominent organisations between August to October 2021 under the NSL. These include civil society groups as Amnesty International, Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), Hong Kong Alliance, Hong Kong Professional Teacher's Union, and the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU).

"We stand in solidarity with the people of Hong Kong in their struggle to defend fundamental freedoms. We also urge the international community to speak up and denounce these violations. We call on the Government of Hong Kong to drop all charges against the detainees, release them immediately, and refrain from further undermining press freedom, including by repealing the draconian national security law," Cornelius Hanung said.

Reiterating the call made by 50 United Nations independent experts in 2020 for decisive measures to protect fundamental freedoms in China, including Hong Kong. CIVICUS also calls on the Human Rights Council to take collective action in the upcoming Council session to meaningfully safeguard and restore civic space and fundamental freedom in Hong Kong.

Civic Space in Hong Kong is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

Civic Space in China is rated as closed by the CIVICUS Monitor