Hong Kong: Authorities demand media organisations hand over materials

The Hong Kong police served four media organisations with court warrants requiring the handing in of internal documents related to July's primary elections on January 6. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate, the Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA), expressed concern about the chilling effect that such acts will have on the press and called on Hong Kong authorities to stop harassing journalists and media organisations.

A man (R) holds a copy of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily during a demonstration at a mall on the eve of the first anniversary of the Prince Edward MTR station incident in Hong Kong on August 30, 2020. Credit: May James/AFP

On January 6, the Hong Kong police’s national security department turned up at the offices of online news outlets StandNews and InMedia, as well as media group Next Digital and its subsidiary newspaper Apple Daily with court orders. The media organisations were reportedly asked to hand in information about the pro-democracy camp’s primary elections held in July 2020 within seven days.

The police did not search the newsrooms. 

Steve Li Kwai-Wah, a senior superintendent at the National Security Division, said during a press conference on January 6 that the authorities were not seeking to obtain journalistic materials. According to Li, the police were asking the media outlets to provide assistance in the investigation. 

Both Apple Daily and StandNews said they would be seeking legal advice on the matter. Editor-in-chief of StandNews Chung Pui-kuen also said he was asked not to disclose details about the court order.  

This came hours after the Hong Kong authorities arrested 53 pro-democracy leaders for their involvement in the primaries last year, including former lawmakers, district councillors, activists, and scholars. The authorities said the unofficial vote to choose opposition candidates for the city’s now postponed Legislative Council elections was part of a plan to “overthrow” the government.Gwyneth Ho Kwai-lam, a journalist-turned-politician who used to work with StandNews and the BBC, was one of the detainees.

According to Ho’s Facebook admin, the police searched Ho’s residence and took away business cards and electronic devices she had used when working for the BBC. Ho was released on bail late on January 7.

The HKJA said, “The HKJA is extremely concerned about the incident. Although the police have emphasized that they are not requesting journalistic materials from media organizations, operational information about media organizations poses a real psychological threat against journalists, causing a chilling effect and worsening the problems of self-censorship and suspicion in the industry.”

The IFJ said, “We call on Hong Kong police to stop using chilling methods to intimidate the media and call on Hong Kong authorities to stop harassing journalists and media organizations.” 


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