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Explainer: The decline of Hong Kong’s press freedom under the national security law

HKFP rounds up press freedom incidents since the onset of the Beijing-imposed security law in June 2020.


5 JANUARY 2022

On Tuesday, January 4, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that the Hong Kong authorities do “not seek to crackdown on press freedom.” HKFP rounds up media industry incidents since the onset of the national security law.

Photo: Studio Incendo.

July 2020

  • The Foreign Correspondents’ Club issued an open letter to Chief Executive Carrie Lam demanding the government give assurances of press freedom under the national security law.

  • Lam said she would guarantee press freedom if the media guaranteed that it would not violate the security law.

  • The Hong Kong Journalists Association warned of the “chilling effect” of the law.

  • The New York Times moved a third of its Hong Kong staff to Seoul, citing the national security law and the difficulty in securing work visas.

  • Police fined journalists at a protest in Yuen Long for allegedly breaching anti-coronavirus social distancing rules.

August 2020

  • Police ordered reporters from five Hong Kong digital media platforms to leave a press conference.

  • Apple Daily newspaper claimed that personal data of staffers had been published on a doxxing website.

  • The Foreign Correspondents’ Club said reporters were facing “highly unusual” problems obtaining visas, including months-long delays.

  • Beijing’s foreign affairs office told the FCC in response to “distinguish right from wrong.”

  • Pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai was arrested under the national security law.

  • More than 100 police raided the newsroom at Lai’s Apple Daily newspaper in Tseung Kwan O.

  • Journalist Wilson Li was arrested in connection with a pro-democracy NGO under the national security law.

  • Police said they would select which media outlets should have close access to their operations after excluding several local and international news organisation from the Apple Daily raid.

  • Dozens of people gathered at shopping malls to protest for press freedom after the arrest of Lai and the newsroom raid.

File photo: KH/United Social Press.

  • Public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong removed a website interview with activist-in-exile Nathan Law, citing the national security law.

  • The government appointed new members to RTHK’s advisory board.

  • The Hong Kong Journalists Association filed a legal challenge against the Communications Authority’s warning concerning RTHK’s Headliner show.

  • Over 300 iCable News staff signed a petition against the dismissal of three senior engineers.

  • A survey showed some journalists who covered the 2019 protests reported a range of health issues due to crowd control weapons.

  • Hong Kong Free Press was denied a work visa for a journalist following an almost six-month wait without any explanation.

September 2020

  • The University of Hong Kong was asked a long list of “unusual” questions by the Immigration Department when applying for a work visa for a Pulitzer-winning journalist.

  • The government reportedly told an independent film distributor to include an official warning in two documentaries about the anti-extradition bill protests.

  • Media groups criticised the police decision to stop recognising accreditations issued by journalist associations.

  • RTHK journalist Nabela Qoser had her probation extended and was investigated again after she grilled Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

Inside the Red Brick Wall. Photo: Ying E Chi Cinema, via Facebook.

October 2020

  • National security police raided the private office of Jimmy Lai.

  • A district councillor was given a suspended prison sentence for publicly identifying the policeman who allegedly shot an Indonesian journalist in the eye.

November 2020

  • Freelance producer Bao Choy was arrested for searching car licence plate records while researching a TV documentary about the 2019 Yuen Long mob attacks.

  • A student journalist was charged with obstructing police and resisting arrest in a protest in May.

  • Police arrested a journalist for obstruction after she refused to stop filming the arrest of two women in a mass protest in Mong Kok in May.

  • Hong Kong Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung banned a planned journalists’ protest against the arrest of Choy, citing Covid-19 restrictions, despite earlier approval.

Jimmy Lai. File Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

December 2020

  • iCable News’ China desk resigned en masse after the broadcaster fired 40 people in the newsroom, citing the impact of Covid-19.

  • Secretary for Home Affairs Caspar Tsui said the government would examine “loopholes” in the laws against fake news and misinformation.

  • Bookstore Bookazine declined to distribute a book by Hong Kong Free Press political columnist Kent Ewing, citing fears over the national security law.

  • The Court of First Instance rejected the Hong Kong Journalists Association’s legal challenge against police “ill-treatment” of the media at protests.

  • Prosecutors filed an appeal against the granting of bail to Jimmy Lai after Chinese state media criticised the decision.

  • Lai resigned from Apple Daily parent company Next Media to “spend more time dealing with his personal affairs.”

January 2021

  • The Hong Kong government announced a decision to move Covid-19 press briefings online. It backtracked following criticism from a Hong Kong journalism watchdog.

  • Police demanded Apple Daily hand over the information on journalists who searched for public vehicle licence plate records.

  • Police visited the newsrooms of Apple Daily, InMedia and StandNews with search warrants demanding documents relating to the primary election for LegCo in July 2020.

  • The head of RTHK, Leung Ka-wing, advised staff not to interview the 55 democrats arrested under the national security law over their alleged involvement in the primary.

  • Three people convicted of rioting and assaulting a mainland journalist at the airport during anti-government protests in 2019 were jailed for up to 5 1/2 years.

  • Bao Choy pleaded not guilty to making false statements after she obtained vehicle registration information for a film about the 2019 Yuen Long mob attacks.

  • The head of Hong Kong’s largest police union slammed public broadcaster RTHK for allegedly biased reporting of a weekend lockdown to combat Covid-19.

A silent protest staged by the RTHK union to support their colleague Nabela Qoser. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

  • The staff union at RTHK staged a silent protest to support fellow journalist Nabela Qoser, after she was told to accept a new short-term contract or face dismissal.

  • The Communications Authority ruled that three episodes of RTHK’s satirical programme Headliner insulted and denigrated the police force, and “strongly advised” the station to follow broadcasting regulations more closely.

  • Three parliamentarians from the Norwegian Liberal Party nominated Hong Kong Free Press for a Nobel Peace Prize.

February 2021

  • RTHK suspended BBC World News after a ban in China over its Xinjiang reporting.

  • Security officers at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts barred at least two reporters from attending a trial hearing, to protect the identity of a police officer who had provided a witness statement anonymously.

  • Hong Kong’s High Court refused to grant bail to media mogul Jimmy Lai again over national security law charges.

  • Director of Broadcasting Leung Ka-wing resigned from his post at RTHK six months before the end of his term.

  • A Hong Kong government report found “deficiencies” in the editorial management of RTHK.

  • Funding for RTHK was cut by 4.6 per cent in the 2021-22 budget.

  • Baptist University cancelled the World Press Photo exhibition, which included images of the Hong Kong protests, two days before its expected launch.

World Press Photo Exhibition in Hong Kong. Photo: World Press Photo Exhibition Hong Kong, via Facebook.

March 2021

  • A top Beijing official said the principle of “patriots governing Hong Kong” extends to the judiciary, the education sector and the media, in addition to public officials.

  • A leading civil servant with no broadcasting experience took over as head of RTHK, where three senior employees quit in the space of two weeks.

  • Hong Kong’s national security police arrested a former top executive of Next Digital, the publisher of Apple Daily, over alleged fraud.

  • RTHK made a last-minute decision to cancel a programme featuring a panel discussion of Beijing’s plans for a drastic election overhaul.

  • The cinema screening of a documentary about a violent campus clash between student protesters and police in 2019 was cancelled at short notice after a pro-Beijing newspaper claimed the film may violate the national security law.

  • Hong Kong’s Ombudsman said that it would investigate the Immigration Department for refusing a work visa to Hong Kong Free Press for its incoming editor in 2020.

  • Bao Choy went on trial for allegedly violating the Road Traffic Ordinance in seeking to obtain vehicle licence plate information for a documentary.

  • RTHK axed another episode of a current affairs programme at short notice, the ninth such cancellation since the new Director of Broadcasting Patrick Li took office.

  • The Hong Kong government announced plans to restrict public and media access to currently available information on company directors listed in the Companies’ Registry.

  • RTHK sought to withdraw its entries from journalism awards.

Press freedom in 2021. Photo: RSF.

April 2021

  • RTHK said that the Hong Kong government has the power to surcharge its employees for the cost of axed programmes.

  • Amnesty International Hong Kong said the state of human rights and freedoms in Hong Kong had deteriorated under the national security law in 2020.

  • The public perception of the independence and credibility of Hong Kong’s news media dropped to a record low, according to an opinion poll.

  • Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the Hong Kong government is the “biggest victim of fake news,” after pledging to submit a bill to tackle “doxxing” within the current legislative term.

  • RTHK dropped veteran journalist Steve Vines as a regular current affairs commentator on its Morning Brew programme after more than ten years.

  • The Epoch Times’s printing presses were ransacked by a gang of men wielding sledgehammers.

  • Hong Kong journalist Yvonne Tong, who famously challenged a WHO official, resigned from RTHK.

  • Reporters Without Borders East Asia warned that silence from the Hong Kong authorities over an attack on the Epoch Times is fostering a “climate of suspicion” against journalists and “encouraging” violent attacks on the media.

  • Police chief Chris Tang said media outlets that endanger the security of Hong Kong by publishing “fake news” will be investigated.

  • State-owned newspaper Ta Kung Pao in a full-page cover story accused Apple Daily and other pro-democracy “yellow media” of “constantly creating fake news.”

  • Reporters without Borders warned that the national security law posed a “grave threat” to the city’s journalists as Hong Kong remained 80th out of 180 regions in the 2021 world press freedom index.

Journalist Bao Choy appears in court on April 22, 2021. Photo: Studio Incendo.

  • RTHK rejected a media award for a TV documentary about the police handling of the Yuen Long mob attack in 2019.

  • The Hong Kong government criticised a Reporters Without Borders report which warned that the national security law poses a “grave threat” to journalists in the city.

  • Hong Kong documentary producer Bao Choy was found guilty and fined HK$6,000 for knowingly making false statements to obtain vehicle ownership records for the RTHK programme on the Yuen Long mob attacks of 2019.

  • Police confirmed that a journalist from Ta Kung Pao was arrested in February for making false statements to obtain public vehicle records.

  • The Foreign Correspondents’ Club urged Hong Kong’s police chief to clarify his recent comments about “foreign forces” attempting to stir hatred and conflict in the city using disinformation.

  • Beijing accused the FCC of being an external force interfering with China’s internal affairs and undermining the city’s rule of law.

  • A fifth senior staffer resigned from RTHK.

  • RTHK signed up Chief Executive Carrie Lam to host her own daily show on Beijing’s electoral overhaul for the city.

  • RTHK axed another episode of a TV documentary series about online media financed by public donations after a month-long vetting.

May 2021

  • RTHK began removing shows from its YouTube channel and Facebook page a year after they air. It deleted its archive of content over a year old.

RTHK’s YouTube Channel. Photo: RTHK Screenshot via YouTube.

  • The Hong Kong Press Freedom Index hit a record low where close to 99 per cent of respondents said the Beijing-enacted national security law harmed the city’s free press.

  • RTHK refused to extend an employment contract for journalist Nabela Qoser following an extended probation period. Qoser was known for her vigorous questioning of officials.

  • Hong Kong journalist Bao Choy filed an appeal against a magistrate’s decision to convict her after she accessed public records to investigate police behaviour during the “7.21” mob attack at Yuen Long MTR station in 2019.

  • An executive producer who led Hong Kong’s longest running TV documentary programme Hong Kong Connection resigned from RTHK.

  • Epoch Times reporter Leung Zhen was attacked by a man wielding a baseball bat from a passing vehicle.

  • Assets belonging to pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai were frozen by the Hong Kong authorities.

  • Trading in shares of Next Digital, the parent company of Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, were suspended at the company’s request.

  • Hong Kong’s Security Secretary John Lee denied that the freezing of the assets of pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai represented a crackdown on press freedom.

  • RTHK denied replacing an episode of Hong Kong Connection about the proposed shake-up of the city’s electoral system following local media reports that it had been axed.

  • RTHK axed a story about the annual Tiananmen Massacre anniversary long-distance run from its news show “LegCo review”.

Claudia Mo. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

  • WhatsApp chats which democrat Claudia Mo had sent to media organisations like the BBC and the New York Times outlining her fears for freedom of speech in the city were deemed by a High Court judge to be sufficient grounds to deny her bail.

June 2021

  • RTHK axed another current affairs programme, “Letter to Hong Kong”.

  • It is announced that pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai is to stand trial on national security charges in Hong Kong’s High Court, where the maximum penalty is life imprisonment.

  • A Hong Kong court ruled that a local female reporter was guilty of resisting a police officer in the execution of their duties while covering a protest in Mong Kok in May 2020.

  • Hong Kong’s Department of Justice dropped a charge of improperly accessing public records against a reporter for Beijing-owned newspaper Ta Kung Pao.

  • Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers raided the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and arrested five senior executives on suspicion of violating the national security law.

  • Hong Kong’s security chief John Lee accused pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily of using journalism as a tool to endanger national security.

  • Two senior executives from the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily were charged under the national security law for allegedly conspiring to collude with foreign powers.

Dozens of Hong Kong police enter Apple Daily’s headquarters in Tseung Kwan O on June 17, 2021.

  • Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK fired outspoken pro-democracy radio host Tsang Chi-ho.

  • Next Digital CEO Cheung Kim-hung and Apple Daily Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law facing national security charges were denied bail at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts.

  • Pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper warned it was unable to pay staff and was at imminent risk of closure after the government froze company assets citing the national security law.

  • Apple Daily’s finance section, its English edition, Twitter account and video department ceased operations following an exodus of staff.

  • Police arrested an Apple Daily editorial writer under the national security law for allegedly conspiring to collude with foreign forces.

  • Hong Kong pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily decided to halt all operations in the city and published its last edition of the newspaper on June 24.

  • Two Apple Daily executives arrested on suspicion of endangering national security sought a court order for Hong Kong police to return journalistic and privileged legal material seized during their arrest and in a raid on the newspaper.

  • Hong Kong national security police arrested a former editorial writer for Apple Daily at the airport as he was about to fly to Britain.

  • Independent digital outlet Stand News announced it will remove opinion articles and columns it published before May and stop accepting donations in order to reduce risks under the national security law.

  • Human Rights Watch released a report saying that basic rights and freedoms in Hong Kong were being “erased” under the security law.

  • Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK sacked veteran journalist Allan Au from hosting a phone-in radio programme.

  • Veteran Hong Kong journalist and commentator Steve Vines announced his departure from public broadcaster RTHK.

July 2021

  • Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK axed the current affairs programme The Pulse, hosted by veteran journalist Steve Vines.

Steve Vines on The Pulse. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

  • NGO Reporters Without Borders released a report accusing Chief Executive Carrie Lam of trampling on the city’s press freedom, and listed her as a “predator.”

  • Hong Kong Journalists Association published its annual report saying that the city’s press freedom was “in tatters.”

  • Local media reported that a senior executive at Now News resigned citing “turbulent times” for Hong Kong’s media.

  • Staff at public broadcaster RTHK were ordered to refer to Taiwan as part of China.

  • A sexual assault complaint against a Hong Kong police officer who allegedly touched the breast of a female journalist was dropped after the force failed to identify the officer.

  • Three former Apple Daily journalists had their bail revoked by national security police.

  • Hong Kong Secretary for Home Affairs Caspar Tsui told lawmakers that the government was mulling plans to implement a “fake news” law.

  • Four former Apple Daily journalists charged under the national security law were denied bail in court.

  • Hong Kong national security police confiscated the travel documents of a reporter who filmed a knife attack against an officer.

  • Two former editors of pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily charged under the national security law withdrew their bail review applications.

Photo: Kenny Huang & Michael Ho/Studio Incendo.

  • The Hong Kong government appointed a special fraud investigator to scrutinise pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily’s parent company Next Digital.

August 2021

  • Digital Hong Kong news outlet Initium became the first media organisation to quit the city following the implementation of the national security law, as the outlet moved to Singapore.

  • HKFP columnist and ex-RTHK broadcaster Steve Vines left Hong Kong for the UK citing the security law crackdown.

  • Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK deleted all of its English-language Twitter archive and prevented readers from “replying” to its tweets citing resource constraints.

  • Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that public broadcaster RTHK will partner with China Media Group – the holding group for CCTV and China National Radio – to air more programmes.

  • Beijing-controlled Wen Wei Po called for the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) to be regulated.

September 2021

  • All remaining directors of Next Digital, parent company of Apple Daily, resigned and called for the company’s liquidation, citing a “climate of fear” created by the national security law.

  • Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK said it is committed to promoting public debate following reports that it axed another current affairs programme, the 41-year-old City Forum.

  • The Hong Kong Journalists Association hit back at criticism from the Secretary for Security, who accused it of infiltrating campuses to “rope in” student journalists as members.

  • The head of the Hong Kong Journalists Association said that the security chief’s suggestion that the group could make public its members’ information may be in violation of the Privacy Ordinance.

Chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association Ronson Chan. video

  • A Hong Kong cartoonist apologised to police for a satirical comic strip which linked the Junior Police Call organisation to a controversy over the Hong Kong Journalists Association.

  • Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK refused to comment on the whereabouts of its English-language radio presenter Hugh Chiverton after he disappeared from the airwaves without explanation.

  • Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary asked a court to wind up Next Digital Limited, the parent company of Apple Daily, in the “public interest.”

  • Public broadcaster RTHK told its staff to avoid contact with foreign governments or political organisations under new editorial guidelines, as it vowed to prevent acts that endanger national security.

October 2021

  • Two Hong Kong news organisations were barred from attending a reception organised by the local media sector in celebration of the upcoming Chinese National Day.

  • Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK refused to say why it deleted a story from its website about proposals for a new law criminalising insults against public officers.

  • The Hong Kong Journalists Association apologised for the alleged theft of its members’ personal information, after a Beijing-backed newspaper published shredded documents taken from the office trash.

  • Police rejected 26 out of 27 complaints submitted by the Hong Kong Journalists Association as “not pursuable.”

  • The Independent Police Complaints Council accused the Hong Kong Journalists Association of airing misinformation over misconduct investigations.

File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

  • Two registries announced new rules tightening public access to government records to step up the protection of personal data privacy.

  • Hong Kong democrat Alan Leong was dropped by Ming Pao as a writer for the newspaper’s legal column, ending an 18-year term.

November 2021

  • The Consumer Council cancelled an annual consumer reporting awards contest co-organised with the Hong Kong Journalists Association.

  • An anonymous survey conducted by the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club found that close to half of the respondents considered leaving Hong Kong.

  • The Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed “strong disapproval” of the member survey conducted by the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

  • Digital media outlet DB Channel announced plans to shut down operations in Hong Kong after the channel’s co-founder Frankie Fung was denied bail pending trial under the national security law.

  • Hong Kong police closed an investigation into a baseball bat attack on an Epoch Times reporter, with no one facing charges.

  • Hong Kong digital news outlet Stand News was nominated for the Reporters Without Borders 2021 Press Freedom Prize for Independence.

  • The Economist said that the Hong Kong authorities refused to renew a work visa for their correspondent Sue-Lin Wong, without providing an explanation.

Sue-Lin Wong. Photo: The Economist.

  • Chief Executive Carrie Lam refused to explain why a journalist from the Economist was denied a work visa renewal, saying any government has discretion on the issuing of visas.

  • The Hong Kong government is conducting a legal study on the problem of “fake news,” Chief Secretary John Lee said.

  • Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK removed from its website a news report about Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who accused a former top Chinese official of sexual assault.

  • Chief Executive Carrie Lam vowed to “proactively plug loopholes” in the city’s internet regulation to ensure “fake news” circulating online does not “harm society.”

  • Hong Kong’s High Court partially upheld a decision made by the Communication Authority against public broadcaster RTHK, which stated that it presented factual inaccuracies and denigrated the police force in a now-axed satirical show.

December 2021

  • Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK “paused” the social media pages of a dozen programmes, including the axed political satire show Headliner and the popular Hong Kong Connection which was still in production.

  • Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai and the staff of Apple Daily won the Golden Pen of Freedom award.

  • The Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang threatened the Wall Street Journal over an editorial it published about the city’s first “patriots-only” legislative race.

  • Reporters Without Borders said press freedom in Hong Kong was in “free fall” in its latest report on China.

  • Hong Kong’s High Court ordered that Next Digital Limited – the parent company of the now-defunct Apple Daily – must be wound up.

  • RTHK broadcasters outside of the news department were ordered not to discuss the University of Hong Kong’s removal of a Tiananmen Massacre statue.

Stand News acting editor-in-chief Patrick Lam was arrested by national security police on Wednesday. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

  • Over 200 national security police officers were deployed to raid the offices of non-profit online news outlet Stand News, seven people linked to the outlet were arrested.

  • Hong Kong independent media outlet Stand News announced its decision to shut following a newsroom raid and seven arrests. Its website and social media pages were deleted.

  • Two former chief editors of digital media outlet Stand News were denied bail by a court after they were accused of publishing seditious materials.

  • Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng said that criticism from foreign politicians and organisations over the arrest of figures connected to Stand News were “baseless” and “in blatant violation of international law.”

January 2022

  • Independent Hong Kong media outlet Citizen News announced that they decided to halt operations. They said the decision was to ensure staff safety and was prompted by the authorities’ crackdown on fellow independent newsroom Stand News.

  • Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the closure of Stand News and Citizen News in under a week were unrelated to the national security law and press freedom.


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