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FCC Submission on the Consultation Document of Article 23 of the Basic Law

On February 28, The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong sent the following submission to the Security Bureau on the Consultation Document of Article 23 of the Basic Law.

In loving memory of John McBeth

    
 John McBeth
May 31 1944 – December 7 2023
 
Of all the foreign correspondents who have worked in southeast Asia over the past six decades, none surpassed John McBeth in dedication to his craft and the esteem and friendship of his colleagues.
 
As a young and adventurous journalist from Taranaki, he left the Auckland Star en route to London. He never got there. Stopping off by chance in Indonesia he found a new Asian home and field for his talents.
 
Working in Bangkok for a variety of publications and agencies, he was an early recruit to Asiaweek, then in 1979 joined the Far Eastern Economic Review where he was to remain until its 2004 closure. He was in a Bangkok bureau with such talents as Rodney Tasker and Paisal Sricharatchnya and close friend of Neil Davis, the noted war cameraman killed in an abortive Thai coup. Eased out of his Bangkok comfort zone to Seoul, he distinguished himself covering the turmoil and political change of the late 80s and, with colleague Nayan Chanda, scooping the world on the North Korean nuclear programme.
 
From there it was to Manila and a still much-quoted series on the nation’s regional warlords. He then had a medical issue which resulted in the amputation of one leg. This trauma would have killed the spirits of most journalists, but with the never ending support of his wife Yuli Ismartono, the correspondent for Tempo he had met in Bangkok, he overcame the challenge. It is hard to overstate the importance of their bond.
 
They moved to Jakarta where he again distinguished himself with coverage of the latter Suharto years and then turmoil which followed his downfall. After the Review’s closure he wrote a regular column on Indonesia for the Straits Times and contributed to other publications and in 2011 wrote an entertaining book accurately entitled “Reporter: Forty Years Covering Asia”.

He had some strong opinions but never let them get in the way of accurate reporting delivered cleanly and on time.

As a colleague, he was always good company. Good friends included not just his immediate workmates but correspondents at large, not least FCC immediate past president Keith Richburg.

He seemed indestructible and was in fine form when I saw him just three months ago. But such is aging. Now we mourn with Yuli the passing of someone who has left us with so many good memories and a permanent record of good journalism.

Philip Bowring

FCC Statement on Journalists and the Israel-Hamas War

    
 
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong is deeply saddened and disturbed by the severe toll the ongoing Israel-Hamas war has taken on journalists.
 
As of Oct. 26, at least 27 journalists were among the more than 7,000 people killed in the conflict, including 22 Palestinians, four Israelis and one Lebanese, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. At least eight other journalists have been injured, and nine others are believed to be missing or detained.
 
There are multiple other unconfirmed reports of journalists being killed, injured, missing, detained or threatened, and of their homes and offices being damaged.
 
The Club expresses its deepest condolences to the colleagues and loved ones of the journalists who have been killed, as well as the journalists whose families have been killed in the conflict they are covering.
 
The Club further calls on all parties to ensure the safety of journalists on the ground in Israel and the Gaza Strip, who are reporting the news with great courage under extremely dangerous circumstances. Journalists are civilians who should not be targeted, and their ability to freely and safely do their jobs is vital for understanding the conflict and working toward its end.
 

FCC Statement on Unjust Sentencing of Myanmar Photojournalist Sai Zaw Thaike

    
 
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong calls for the release of Sai Zaw Thaike, a photojournalist unjustly sentenced to a lengthy prison term by a military court in Myanmar.
 
Sai Zaw Thaike was sentenced on Sept. 6 to 20 years in prison with hard labor for his coverage of the aftermath of a deadly cyclone in Rakhine State. He was covering the disaster for independent news outlet Myanmar Now when he was arrested in May and charged with various infractions, including sedition, which carried sentences varying from one to 20 years.
 
Myanmar Now said the number of charges on which he was convicted is unclear and that Sai Zaw Thaike was provided with no legal representation throughout his detention.
 
His arrest and conviction are an apparent act of retribution and intimidation aimed at Myanmar Now, which was banned shortly after Myanmar’s military staged its 2021 coup. Myanmar Now continued to operate from exile, providing independent coverage of the aftermath of the coup despite the regime’s efforts to crack down on free press. Since the coup, dozens of journalists have been arrested and four media personnel have been killed.
 
The FCC stands in solidarity with Myanmar Now and urges the release of Sai Zaw Thaike. All journalists should be able to cover stories without fear of harassment or arrest.
 

FCC Statement on Blocking of The Kashmir Walla in India

    
 
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong is deeply troubled by what amounts to the forced closure of The Kashmir Walla, one of the last remaining independent news outlets in Indian-administered Kashmir.
 
The Kashmir Walla, founded more than a decade ago and known for its human rights reporting, has faced relentless harassment from Indian authorities since early last year, when its founder and editor, Fahad Shah, was arrested along with trainee reporter Sajad Gul under anti-terror laws. Both remain in prison.
 
On Aug. 19, Kashmir Walla staff discovered that access to their website had been blocked in India by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and that the outlet’s social media accounts were also inaccessible in India. The outlet says it received no warning and has been unable to find any official order regarding these actions.
 
The Kashmir Walla has since had to vacate its office in Srinagar after being served an eviction notice by the landlord.
 
The intimidation, harassment and arrest of journalists in Kashmir is part of a broader crackdown on civil liberties in the disputed, Muslim-majority region that began in August 2019, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked Kashmir’s autonomy and put it under central government control. The growing pressure faced by journalists in Kashmir and India more broadly is reflected in this year’s World Press Freedom Index, where India fell to 161st out of 180 countries from 150th last year.
 
The FCC urges the government of India, the world’s largest democracy, to explain the actions taken against The Kashmir Walla and respect the right to a free and independent press, which is essential to the functioning of any democratic society. It stands in solidarity with The Kashmir Walla and other independent news outlets in Kashmir, and supports all journalists’ right to do their jobs without fear of harassment or arrest.
 

The FCC has also reached out to the Indian Consulate in Hong Kong for further dialogue.

FCC Statement on Political Cartoonist Zunzi

    
 
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong (FCC) expresses concern over the termination of prominent Hong Kong political cartoonist Wong Kei-Kwan’s comic series.
 
Wong’s cartoons, published under the pseudonym Zunzi, ceased to be published in local media outlet Ming Pao from May 14, 2023.
 
The move to suspend Wong’s cartoons came as government officials have publicly criticized his cartoons for a number of months.
 
The FCC notes that the decision to stop publishing Wong’s cartoons is a further blow to press freedom in Hong Kong.
 
The Hong Kong government has repeatedly told the public that freedom of the press and freedom of speech, as enshrined in the city’s Basic Law and National Security Law, is not at risk. The FCC supports the right of media professionals to continue to enjoy those freedoms under the laws of Hong Kong.
 
In addition to our continued proactive engagement with relevant government departments, we have reached out to Ming Pao for dialogue about this decision.
 

FCC Statement on Media Access

    
 
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong (FCC) is concerned that several media outlets were barred by the Hong Kong government from covering a National Security Education Day event on Saturday 15 April, 2023.
 
Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP), a government-registered media outlet, reports that it was rejected from attending a ceremony at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, along with several other outlets and a wire service.
 
This follows last year’s decision by the government to bar some local and international media, including Hong Kong Free Press, from attending the swearing-in ceremony of Mr John Lee Ka-chiu as the Chief Executive of the HKSAR.
 
Media outlets being barred from covering public events raises concerns over the future of press freedom in Hong Kong, which is guaranteed under Article 27 of the Basic Law.
 
The FCC also notes that the event in April was held with the aim of enhancing the public’s understanding of the importance of national security to Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability. The barring of certain registered media outlets is further perplexing given the stated objectives of the events of that day, as well as the guarantee of freedom of the press under Article 4 of the National Security Law (NSL).
 
The FCC has contacted the Hong Kong Information Services Department (ISD) to ask them to explain why journalists are being denied access to certain events featuring high-ranking government officials. To facilitate dialogue, the FCC has requested a meeting with the ISD to discuss media access to future government-sponsored events.
 
The FCC welcomes the Ombudsman’s decision on 2 May 2023 to investigate HKFP’s complaint against the ISD and urges that a full report be published outlining the Ombudsman’s findings.
 

Press Freedom Survey 2023

Press Freedom Survey 2023
      
Dear Correspondent/Journalist members,
To mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the FCC press freedom committee is launching the second survey of its Journalist and Correspondent members for their thoughts on whether and how the environment for press freedom is changing in Hong Kong. We would really appreciate you sharing your experiences in this anonymous survey, which should take no more than 15 minutes to complete.
A link to the survey has been emailed to all Correspondent and Journalist members today. Printed versions of this survey are available at the Club’s front desk.
The survey will be open until midnight on Friday May 19.
Many thanks in advance for your time, 
The press freedom committee

FCC Statement on Closure of Voice of Democracy in Cambodia

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong is deeply troubled by the forced closure of Cambodia’s leading independent media outlet, Voice of Democracy.

Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered VOD’s licence revoked, effective Monday, over what he said was an erroneous report about his eldest son. The prime minister had demanded an apology from VOD, but refused to reconsider the revocation even after the outlet later complied.

The sudden and arbitrary closure is a devastating attack on the country’s free press and is yet another example of the increasing restrictions on press freedom in Cambodia, coming after years of harassment and intimidation of journalists, independent media outlets, and civil society groups.

The FCC notes that the closure of VOD will have far-reaching implications for Cambodia’s already fragile democracy. As the country prepares for a general election in July 2023, Cambodian citizens need access to truthful and unbiased information to help inform their choices. The right to free and independent press is essential to the functioning of any democratic society and the FCC urges the Cambodian government to respect this fundamental right.

The FCC stands in solidarity with VOD and other independent news outlets in Cambodia, and supports all journalists’ right to cover stories without fear of harassment or arrest.

MOFA Responds to FCC Statement on the arrest of Ronson Chan, chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued the following response to the FCC’s statement on the arrest of Ronson Chan, chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association:

The spokesperson of the Commissioner’s Office of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in the HKSAR strongly disapproved and firmly rejected the move of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) and a few Western anti-China politicians to slander the action taken by the Hong Kong police towards certain members of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) in accordance with law and to interfere with the rule of law in the HKSAR.

The spokesperson said that Hong Kong is a society governed by rule of law where laws must be enforced and lawbreakers held to account. Both the Basic Law of the HKSAR and the National Security Law for the HKSAR stipulate that lawful rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents are protected, including freedom of speech and the press. However, there is no absolute press freedom anywhere in the world that could be above law, and the identity of a journalist doesn’t mean they have amnesty or enjoy immunity for whatever they do. All journalists in Hong Kong must strictly abide by the laws of the HKSAR, and no one should engage in activities that damage Hong Kong’s stability under the name of journalism.

The spokesperson pointed out that the FCC and some Western politicians ignored the facts and took every opportunity to attack the SAR Government and supported anti-China forces in Hong Kong, which fully exposed their intention of meddling with the rule of law in the SAR and disrupting Hong Kong in the name of press freedom. Their tricks will bite the dust.

The spokesperson stressed that Hong Kong is in a new stage of moving from chaos to stability and then to greater prosperity, and no external forces could stop the sustained implementation of “one country, two systems”. We urge the FCC and certain Western politicians to recognize the fact, put themselves in the right position, respect the rule of law in the SAR, cease and desist from interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs for any reason, and stop going further down the wrong path.

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