Another Hong Kong news outlet shut down as pro-Beijing lawmakers sworn in

·4-min read

A group of lawmakers loyal to China’s Communist Party were sworn in to Hong Kong's legislature on Monday following an election without opposition candidates. This as yet another pro-democracy news outlet announced it could no longer operate amid a growing crackdown on freedoms in the territory.

Until just two years ago, the former British colony was known as an enclave of free expression, something that is unknown on the mainland.

However, last year, the central government in Beijing clamped down on Hong Kong's freedoms, 23 years after the UK handed over the territory to China in 1997.

The move lead to the closure of independent news outlets, the dismantlement of dozens of civil groups and NGO's, the removal of monuments to dissent, and a poorly attended election won by pro-Beijing politicians, but boycotted by the pro-democracy camp.

The founders of news outlet Citizen News said the news site will stop publishing on Tuesday.

While they have received no order to close, they said on Monday that deteriorating media freedoms in the financial hub put them in an impossible position.

"We all love this place, deeply," the editors wrote on the statement, published via Twitter. "Regrettably, what was ahead of us is not just pouring rains or blowing winds, but hurricanes and tsunamis."

Media closures

The platform is Hong Kong's third media outlet to close in recent months, following the shuttering of the territory's last pro-democracy print newspaper, Apple Daily, and the online site Stand News.

Citizen News was founded in 2017 by a group of veteran journalists.

The small site focused on political news and analysis pieces, as well as investigations — and in recent months became a refuge for many journalists who had lost their jobs when other outlets closed or faced other pressures.

"With Apple Daily’s sudden closure in the past summer, the journalism majors who were originally supposed to intern with it made arrangements with Citizen News so that it could take them instead, so that students wouldn’t lose this internship opportunity,” said Vivian W.W. Tam, a senior lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s journalism school, in a public Facebook post. Tam declined to be interviewed.

National Security Law

But a new sweeping National Security Law - imposed on Hong Kong by China's central legislature - has made independent reporting increasingly dangerous.

Journalists and political activists have been arrested under the law, and it has forced civil rights groups and unions to disband. Many more activists have fled.

Meanwhile, new laws have changed how Hong Kongers vote for their representatives, including a requirement that all those that seek office must be “patriots,” effectively bringing the body under Beijing's control.

“What we understood about press freedom has changed a lot,” said Chris Yeung, founder and chief writer at Citizen News.

Yeung said at a news conference on Monday that the trigger for their decision to shut down was what happened to Stand News.

Last week, authorities raided Stand News and arrested seven people — including editors and former board members — for allegedly conspiring to publish seditious material. Stand News announced on the same day that it would cease to operate.

Sedition

Two of Stand News’ former editors who were arrested were later formally charged with sedition.

In the summer, authorities forced the closure of Apple Daily, the newspaper owned by media tycoon and democracy activist Jimmy Lai. Lai is currently in jail and was charged with sedition last week.

The Society of Publishers in Asia, a group based in Hong Kong that hosts an annual journalism award, said Monday it is concerned about pressures against independent media in the city.

“We call on the Hong Kong authorities to respect freedom of expression and the press which are vital to the success of our industry,” it said in a statement.

The US and other Western governments have condemned the limits on media and civil freedoms that Beijing promised to uphold for 50 years following Hong Kong’s 1997 handover.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam last week defended the raid on Stand News, telling reporters that “inciting other people ... could not be condoned under the guise of news reporting.”

The only remaining independent news media with reach in the city are Hong Kong Free Press, an English-language news outlet, which opened with the closure of Stand News, and The Initium, a Chinese-language news outlet which moved its headquarters to Singapore in August.

(with AP)

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