Twenty-five years after handover to China, press freedom in Hong Kong more threatened than ever

As July 1, 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 Asia’s most notable, is more threatened than ever. Over the past year, the Hong Kong government forcefully shut down two independent media, Apple Daily and Stand news. He also prosecuted two dozen journalists and press freedom advocates. Thirteen of them are still detained, including Apple Daily founder and winner of the 2020 RSF Press Freedom Prize Jimmy Lai.

The Hong Kong government has embarked on an unprecedented campaign against independent journalism in complete disregard of the territory’s basic law which enshrines the principle of freedom of the press“, says The head of the East Asia bureau of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Cédric Alviani, who urges democracies to “increase pressure on the Beijing regime to end its authoritarian policies and restore full press freedom in Hong Kong.”

According to the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1997, Hong Kong is governed autonomously until 2047 on the basis of a mini-constitution called Basic Law, according to the principle of “one country, two systems”. During the first two decades after the handover, freedom of the press was generally respected despite Beijing’s takeover of some Chinese-language media and establish indirect pressure through advertisers.

In 2014, during the pro-democracy “Umbrella Movement”, journalists for the first time faced violence from police and pro-Beijing supporters. In 2019, during the “anti-extradition” bill protests, violence escalated further and hundreds of journalists were victims of police brutality. On June 30, 2020, the situation worsened with the adoption by the Chinese regime of a national security law which punishes with life imprisonment the crimes of “terrorism”, “secession”, ” subversion” and “collusion with foreign forces”.

In a report titled The great backward step of journalism in ChinaPublished in December 2021, RSF exposed the Chinese regime’s system of censorship and information control 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 fallen from 80th place last year to 148th in 2022 RSF World Press Freedom Index. The People’s Republic of China, for its part, ranks 175th out of 180 countries and territories assessed.

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