Hong Kong’s third news agency shuts down amid dissent crackdown — Radio Free Asia
Hong Kong’s grassroots media organization Citizen News announced it would cease operations following a raid by national security police on the pro-democracy news site Stand News, which shut down its doors after two of its top reporters were arrested for “sedition” last week.
“Citizen News will cease operations from January 4, 2022,” the site said in a post on its Facebook page over the weekend. “The website will no longer be updated and will eventually shut down completely.”
“It is with great sadness that we thank all of our followers for their support; we will carry your deep love with us, recorded in our memories,” the award-winning platform, funded by crowdfunding in 2017, told its more than 800,000 subscribers.
“We have done our best not to violate any law, but we can no longer clearly see the limits of law enforcement and we believe it is no longer safe to continue our work,” the co-founder said. Citizen News’ Chris Yeung, who previously served, the president of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) told reporters on Monday.
“Journalists are people too, with families and friends, and we have to take seriously that this is a dangerous environment,” Yeung said.
Citizen News editor Daisy Li, also a former chair of the HKJA, said trying to operate within the confines of a continued crackdown on press freedom was not an option.
“I can’t even figure out if such and such a story or report, or even such a sentence…will break the law under the new regime we have, and I’m the editor,” Li says.
“If I’m not confident in the management of our journalists to keep working…then surely I have some responsibility towards them [to stop]?” she said. “Can we stick to reliable information? Is it possible?”
Yeung said Citizen News was not contacted by law enforcement, but made a preemptive decision based on what happened to Stand News.
The December 29 raid saw more than 200 police officers raid the offices of Stand News and seven people arrested on suspicion of “sedition” under a colonial-era law. An asset freeze using powers under the National Security Act prompted the outlet to immediately cease operations and lay off all staff.
Two editors of the now closed Stand News have been charged under colonial-era sedition laws, while five others arrested have been released on bail.
The Nationalist world times newspaper, which has close ties to the CCP’s spokesperson, the People’s Daily, said Citizen News had used its privilege to criticize Beijing and the Hong Kong authorities, and showed it was likely “unable to adapt to the new situation” in Hong Kong, where national security law prohibits such criticism.
The site’s closure comes after it was denounced by Hong Kong’s Security Secretary Chris Tang for a ‘misleading report’ after he said he refused to guarantee that free speech would be protected, despite the promise of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
“Similar to Stand News, it also published articles harshly criticizing the central government as well as the Chinese Communist Party. For example, in an article published in June, he called the CCP leadership a “dictatorship” and criticized it for “abusing its power” in controlling local governance in Hong Kong,” the world times noted.
“Despite a chorus of criticism led by Western media, the Hong Kong government will continue to apply the National Security Law…to regulate the media, which cannot become platforms for instigating social conflict. or anti-China movements, nor a conduit for brainwashing and poisoning the minds of young people in Hong Kong,” he said.
Political commentator To Yiu-ming said once National Security Police target the media for “sedition”, authorities are likely to move forward with plans to crack down on what they say is “fake news”.
“Just like the Ministry of Truth in [George Orwell’s dystopian novel] 1984, they will be the only source of truth, and only they can know or judge what news is true,” To told RFA.
“It’s similar to the old Soviet-style concept of news, where those in power decide what’s true and what isn’t, and the media is only allowed to transmit the official truth,” he said.
“It shocked the whole world”
On the democratic island of Taiwan, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker Liu Shih-fang says Hong Kong has seen the demise of pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, Stand News and Citizen News in recent months, indicating that the CCP’s promises of free speech and publication for Hong Kong were officially dead.
“It shocked the whole world,” Liu told RFA. “We did not expect this [CCP leader] Xi Jinping and [Hong Kong chief executive] Carrie Lam would make sure there was no room for free speech.”
“Nor that freedom and democracy would gradually disappear [in Hong Kong]“, said Liu.
Liu called on the ruling DPP and “all progressive forces” in Taiwan and around the world to stand in solidarity with Hong Kong.
“We must do our best to help in any way we can,” Liu said. “I also call on the international community to … condemn high-ranking officials in Hong Kong,” Liu said.
Former Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kei, who fled to Taiwan after being arrested by Chinese police for selling banned political books to customers in mainland China, seemed less surprised.
“Obviously any publication now is going to be subject to strict censorship,” Lam said. “It is possible that the publishing industry will be exactly the same as in mainland China, where any book without [CCP-approved] book number is considered illegal.”
“We have already seen restrictions on showing films and musical performances,” he said. “I don’t see any indication that this is going to stop; to put it bluntly, Hong Kong people are finished.”
Former Stand News acting editor Patrick Lam and former editor Chung Pui-kuen, as well as the media’s owning company, have been accused of conspiring “together and with other people, to publish and/or reproduce seditious publications”. “, court documents showed.
They are also charged with inciting “hate or contempt or disaffection” against the government and inciting “persons to violence”.
Four former Stand News board members, including Cantopop star Denise Ho, have been released on bail without charge, while the seventh person arrested, Chan Pui-man, is already in custody awaiting trial for separate charges under the national security law, which was imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing from July 1, 2020 following pro-democracy protests across the city in 2019.
On Monday, Hong Kong was sworn in to a new group of members of the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo), who were elected under new rules designed to ensure that only “patriots” pre-approved by a Beijing-backed committee can To stand for elections.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.