Campaigners set up Hong Kong press freedom group to aid city’s embattled journalists


The group is launched as former top editors of Stand News stand trial under colonial-era sedition laws.

Campaigners set up Hong Kong press freedom group to aid city's embattled journalists

Former acting chief editor of Stand News Patrick Lam walks to a prison van to head to court over his charge of conspiring to publish ‘seditious publications’ in Hong Kong, China, Oct. 31, 2022.

Hong Kong journalists who fled the city amid an ongoing crackdown on public dissent and political opposition have vowed to keep campaigning for press freedom for the city from overseas, as well as retraining exiled journalists for jobs elsewhere.

Several prominent journalists who left after the ruling Chinese Communist Party imposed a draconian national security law on Hong Kong from July 1, 2020 have formed a press freedom group to “defend the freedom of the press wherever it is being threatened or violated.”

The move came as two former chief editors and the parent company of the now-folded Stand News website stood trial in a Hong Kong court for “sedition.”

Chung Pui-kuen, Patrick Lam and Best Pencil Ltd. are accused of conspiring between July 7, 2020 and Dec. 29, 2021 to publish seditious articles, with 17 articles and three videos brought as evidence by the prosecution, some of which were published before the retrospective period allowed by Hong Kong’s colonial-era sedition law.

Chung and Lam, who have already been in pretrial detention for 10 months, have pleaded not guilty, and face prison sentences of up to 24 months if found guilty, according to live tweets from the courtroom on Oct. 31 by AFP correspondent Xinqi Su.

In London, the newly formed Association of Overseas Hong Kong Media Professionals said it welcomed individuals in the Hong Kong diaspora who are starting out as journalists, as well as established journalists.

“We especially want to acknowledge the tenacity and courage of our colleagues in the media who remain in Hong Kong and are determined to provide information about what is happening in Hong Kong to the rest of the world,” the group said on its website.

“We are equally aware of the dangers they face and the mounting obstacles to freedom of expression,” it said. “We are dedicated to using our residence overseas to keep the spirit and tradition of a free Hong Kong media alive.”

Former finance channel chief at i-CABLE News Joseph Ngan, one of the group’s directors, said the group isn’t a labor union like the beleaguered Hong Kong Journalists’ Association.

“The Journalists Association is a trade union … that is now under various kinds of political pressure in Hong Kong,” Ngan told RFA in a recent interview. “We are concerned about this, and hope to be another voice speaking out about the suppression of press freedom and the flow of information in Hong Kong, from overseas.”

“We hope to use the freedoms we enjoy overseas to be more open in our support for the people of Hong Kong,” Ngan said.

Ngan said Hong Kongers overseas can still be indicted under the national security law, which applies globally. In practice, this has meant that anyone charged under the law is unable to travel to or transit through Hong Kong, mainland China or any country with extradition agreements with those jurisdictions, while former pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui has been tried in absentia for contempt of court after he fled the city while under bail.

Interviews with Hui and exiled former pro-democracy lawmaker Nathan Law were among the Stand New articles submitted by the prosecution at the sedition trial of the website’s former editors.

“It’s hard to define where the red lines lie, because the national security law is enforced around the world,” Ngan said. “But our organization isn’t a political one, but a group concerned with freedom of speech and of the press.”

Association ‘couldn’t be more needed’

Hong Kong Journalists’ Association chair Ronson Chan said there is no link between his union and the Hong Kong press freedom group, with no cooperation planned, either.

“We have absolutely no relationship with this organization,” Chan told RFA. “The Hong Kong Journalists Association will continue to assist journalists in Hong Kong, and mainly serves journalists working in Hong Kong. There is no overlap in our work.”

“Personally, I would be very happy to see them help journalists who have left Hong Kong to keep working, but we have no plans to work with them,” Chan said.

Azzurra Moores, campaign officer for the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, said via Twitter: “The association couldn’t be more needed. Once a bastion of press freedom, Hong Kong now ranks at 148th/180 countries in [our] world press freedom index.”

Former Radio Television Hong Kong host and veteran columnist Steve Vines, who is also a director of the new group, said it had received funding from the International Federation of Journalists to retrain Hong Kong journalists for jobs in overseas media organizations.

The federation said on Oct. 18 that it was concerned over the “gutting” of press freedom in Hong Kong, and called on governments worldwide to put pressure on the authorities to uphold freedom of speech in the city.

Late supreme Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping had promised Hong Kong could run its own affairs under a “one country, two systems” arrangement, with the city’s freedoms preserved for at least 50 years after the 1997 handover, and with progress promised towards fully democratic elections.

Just 25 years after the handover, Hong Kong is no longer the world’s freest economy and has plummeted in global press freedom rankings following a citywide crackdown on several prominent pro-democracy news organizations, including Stand News and Jimmy Lai’s Apple Daily newspaper.

June 2021 raids by national security police on the now-shuttered Apple Daily newspaper and the jailing of several top editors and founder Jimmy Lai, as well as subsequent targeting of Stand News in December 2021, have totally changed the environment for working journalists in the city, journalists have told RFA.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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