Journalists from the Hong Kong news site CitizenNews on Monday denounced the decline in press freedom in the territory, hours after announcing a cessation of their activities for fear for their safety.
The closure comes less than a week after that of the pro-democracy news site Stand News, which was targeted by searches and seven arrests for “seditious publication”, the latest example of the crackdown on the local press by authorities loyal to Beijing.
CitizenNews, a non-partisan news site founded in 2017 by a group of veteran journalists and funded by its readers, is one of Hong Kong’s most popular online news outlets, with more than 800,000 subscribers on social networks. It announced its closure on Sunday, specifying that its website would no longer be updated as of midnight Monday evening.
On this final day, journalists explained that their decision was rooted in the raid carried out last week on Stand News.
“We have done our best not to break any laws, but it is difficult to know the outlines of law enforcement and we can no longer feel safe to work,” Chris Yeung, co-founder of CitizenNews told reporters. and former chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA).
“Journalists are also human beings who have families and friends,” he added.
Chris Yeung said his editorial staff had not been contacted by law enforcement, but decided to shut down due to what happened in other media.
“Can we work on ‘safe news’? I don’t even know what “safe information” is, ”editor-in-chief Daisy Li, also a former president of the HKJA, told reporters.
As these journalists were speaking, the new members of the Hong Kong Legislative Council reserved for “patriots” were swearing an oath of loyalty.
Last week, 89 of 90 lawmakers issued a statement supporting the national security police raid on Stand News.
Critics “devoid of morality”
The nationalist daily Global Times welcomed the closure of CitizenNews on Monday.
“Like Stand News, it also published articles severely criticizing the central government and the Chinese Communist Party,” the newspaper writes.
The former British colony has long been considered, due to its great autonomy from Beijing, as a bastion of press freedom in Asia and many international media had established their regional headquarters there.
But the climate for the press has deteriorated considerably with the muscular recovery that followed the popular mobilization of 2019. A draconian law on national security, imposed by Beijing in 2020, has become the main instrument of repression against dissent .
In June, the pro-democracy Apple Daily closed after its assets were frozen and its executives were arrested.
Stand News closed its doors last week after seven arrests in connection with this media. Among them, its editor-in-chief Patrick Lam and his predecessor Chung Pui-kuen, since indicted for “conspiracy to carry out a seditious publication”.
With few exceptions, the local media are increasingly bending to the official line, while the executive has made the public service broadcaster RTHK close to the Chinese official media, which are subject to tight censorship.
Over the weekend, Yonden Lhatoo, news editor for the South China Morning Post, the leading English-language Hong Kong daily owned by Alibaba founder Jack Ma, called criticism from Western countries of the late of press freedom in Hong Kong of “morals” and advised them to sweep in front of their door first.
To illustrate his point, he mentioned the case of Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, imprisoned in a British prison pending his extradition to the United States.
AFP, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and Bloomberg are among the foreign media with regional headquarters in Hong Kong.
The New York Times and The Washington Post moved part of theirs to Seoul due to the political situation in Hong Kong.