My former colleague has just been arrested and so has media tycoon Jimmy Lai. Beijing is stepping up its attack on press freedom in Hong Kong

It is the first time members of the press have been arrested under the new national security law

Joshua Wong
Monday 10 August 2020 17:17
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Soon after Beijing disqualified pro-democracy political candidates, cancelled the city’s legislative election and planned to impose a rubber-stamp legislature, media newsrooms have become its new target.

One month after the national security law was put in place, Hong Kong pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai was arrested for “colluding with foreign forces and uttering seditious words”. His Apply Daily‘s offices were raided by hundreds of police officers, with reporters’ desks rifled through, computers and files seized and all staff and reporters checked. Given Apply Daily is one of the remaining critical voices in the city, Beijing is now launching the largest-ever assault on the island’s press freedom.

It is the first time members of the press have been arrested under the national security law. In recent weeks, Beijing has been speeding up its media crackdown. Right before the enactment of the sweeping law, the city’s immigration department set up a new national security unit to vet visa applications, including those from foreign correspondents. For journalists who had covered the Hong Kong movements last year, their visa applications or renewals were delayed for weeks or even rejected, mirroring the control of the media in mainland China.

As well as controlling the international media, Beijing has also toughened up on local newsrooms. News directors of two credible TV providers in Hong Kong, iCable and NowTV, were replaced with more pro-government heads within a week. Worse still, today is the first time that Hong Kong police has launched a new restriction on news coverage by imposing cordon lines and limiting media access. Even international media outlets such as Reuters, AFP and AP were barred from entering the Apply Daily office building to cover the raid.

Press freedom is one of the key cornerstones of the city’s liberty, in contrast to the stringent media restrictions in mainland China. It serves as an important litmus test to determine whether this international financial hub will remain open, free and tolerant to critical views under Beijing’s authoritarian rule.

Jimmy Lai’s arrest has presaged a new dark era of media censorship. With its sweeping powers under national security law, Beijing now extends its reach to the city’s media outlets. After pulling books from libraries, sacking prominent law professor Benny Tai and cancelling legislative elections, Beijing has put critical voices in the media in its crosshairs and imperilled the free flow of information to international audiences. Beijing is gradually decoupling the city from the world and turning media outlets in Hong Kong into a state-controlled propaganda apparatus.

My former colleague Agnes Chow has just been arrested for violating the national security law, even though she quit the democracy group Demosisto, stopped her lobbying work and took down her Twitter account before the law went into effect. Beyond any doubt, the new security law is retrospective. From opposition leaders to critical media, Beijing is now staging its outrageous political purge on the city’s dissidents.

Despite Beijing’s looming authoritarian shadow, resistance is our only way out. Even when China attempts to rule the city with Orwellian thoughtcrimes, Hongkongers will not surrender. From now on, it is not just a fight for democracy and liberty, but also a battle between truth and lies.

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