Hong Kong Falls Victim to 'Censorship Virus': Press Freedom Group

Hong Kong Falls Victim to 'Censorship Virus': Press Freedom Group Riot police (L) deploy pepper spray toward journalists (R) as protesters gathered for a rally against a new national security law in Hong Kong, July 1, 2020.

Hong Kong was ranked in 80th place in a global press freedom index on Tuesday, with the Paris-based media watchdog citing "totalitarian control of information" from the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.

Releasing the 2021 Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said the past year had seen examples of authoritarian regimes using the COVID-19 pandemic to "perfect their methods of totalitarian control of information."

"The censorship virus -- at which China is the world’s undisputed specialist -- gradually took hold in much of the region," RSF said.

"This began in the semi-autonomous 'special administrative region' of Hong Kong (80th), where Beijing can now interfere directly under the national security law it imposed in June 2020, and which poses a grave threat to journalism," the group said.

Chris Yeung, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), said press freedom has deteriorated in the city since Beijing imposed the national security law there from July 1, 2020. Hong Kong was ranked 73rd on the list in 2019.

"Freedom of the press in Hong Kong has worsened a lot during the past year," Yeung told RFA. "The reason is that all aspects [of press freedom and journalistic activity] are now under threat from different factors, including some provisions of the national security law itself."

"They way in which the national security law criminalizes and targets certain actions has had a chilling effect that has affected every kind of freedom in Hong Kong," Yeung said, adding that he saw no likelihood of anything improving during the next few years.

He said the government is only just getting started with its crackdown on the city's media.

Bruce Lui, senior journalism lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU), said journalists are under increasing political pressure to conform to CCP narratives under the national security law.

"The pressure on everyone working in the media has intensified, and the number of red lines has multiplied," Lui said. "People are watching the situation, and being careful how they report things, especially on issues considered sensitive by the government."

He said Hong Kong's ranking wouldn't come as much of a surprise to the city's seven million residents.

"Hong Kong people already know this, and I think the media is only a part of the whole story," Lui said.

China is ranked a lowly 177, above only Eritrea and North Korea.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's District Court on Tuesday jailed a woman who helped run a protest-linked channel on the social media app Telegram during the 2019 anti-extradition and pro-democracy movement for three years, for "conspiracy to destroy property" and "inciting others to injure someone."

Hui Pui-yee, 26, received a reduced sentence in recognition of her guilty plea, and when her mental health issues and previously clean record were taken into account.

Judge Frankie Yiu told the court that offenses were "serious," given that messages posted in the channel were spread to tens of thousands of channel members in a short period of time. Some channel members had posted instructions for how to make homemade explosives, Yiu said, adding that Hui could have deleted them, but chose not to.

Reported by Lau Siu Fung and Fong Tak Ho for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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