It is feared that the national security law proposed by China will stifle press freedom and cripple independent media in Hong Kong, the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, said.
The National People’s Congress of China is meeting in Beijing this week and is expected to pass a controversial new law, aimed at banning activities in Hong Kong that would amount to sedition, secession and subversion.
“The secrecy surrounding the bill has prevented any public discussion about legal changes expected to severely affect the rights of people in Hong Kong and undermine the “one country, two systems” principle, sparking off fears that the government could use the proposed law to silence critical voices”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said. “There are also concerns that China might use it to expel foreign journalists covering the mainland from Hong Kong.”
China has aggressively tried to increase its control over independent media in Hong Kong. In 2017, journalists had voiced concerns over the deteriorating state of press freedom in the region, the increasing influence of the mainland through ownership of traditional media outlets, and an increase in self-censorship and attacks on journalists.
The move to enact the new law comes after the administration of Hong Kong failed to implement a controversial extradition bill last year that had sparked off violent protests. The bill, which provided for extradition of criminal suspects to be extradited to the mainland, was introduced by the Hong Kong Administration in April 2019, and withdrawn in October, as hundreds of thousands took to streets in protest.
As the protests against the extradition bill spiralled into a pro-democracy movement, journalists became a target of the police, and several of them were injured, including one who was splashed with corrosive liquid and another who was permanently blinded in one eye after being hit in the face by a police projectile.
On February 18 this year, China expelled three journalists of The Wall Street Journal in response to an opinion piece published in the newspaper and written by an outside commentator. China’s authorities described the article as “racist” and said that it “denigrated” the country’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. The Chinese foreign ministry said WSJ had refused to apologise for the article.
A month later, journalists working for The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal were asked to leave the country. A statement issued by the Chinese foreign ministry said that the decision to expel journalists with U.S. citizenship working for these publications was in response to the U.S. government’s “outrageous” decision in December 2018 to designate Chinese media outlets as foreign missions and in February this year to impose a limit on the number of employees at these outlets.