Hong Kong: Spike in media arrests an ominous red flag

At least 29 journalists have been arrested in Hong Kong since June 2019, highlighting the severe deterioration in the special administrative region. In the wake of this week’s passing of a National Security Law, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) expresses its grave concern for journalists working in Hong Kong, in particular those documenting the city’s ongoing protests.

Riot police detain people in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020. Credit: DALE DE LA REY / AFP

According to data gathered by IFJ affiliate the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), of the 29 journalists arrested since June 2019, all but one worked for private media companies. The majority of publications with arrested journalists are known in Hong Kong for strong, independent journalism, including Stand News, Hong Kong Free Press and Next Magazine.

A string of incidents also involved student publications, including the arrest of 13 student journalists and online reporters during a blockade at the Polytechnic University Campus in November 2019. Chief executive Carrie Lam has since defended the actions of police, saying underage reporters are being ‘poisoned’ by ‘false and biased’ information on campus.

In 2019, 65 per cent of the 327 journalists surveyed by HKJA had been subject to verbal and physical violence while reporting. Journalists also said it was difficult to write freely in Hong Kong due to the lack of legislative safeguards when accessing information as well as other threats such as intimidation or violence while working.

The introduction of the controversial and heavy handed-national security law by the Chinese authorities this week has created major fears for journalists across Hong Kong, with 91 per cent of journalists surveyed by HKJA expressing concern for their safety if it passed. As of July 1, the day after the law passed Beijing’s National People’s Congress unanimously, police made sweeping arrests across Hong Kong and openly fired water cannons and tear gas into crowds where journalists were reporting.

The IFJ said: “The familiarity of police intimidation of journalists in Hong Kong is incredibly disturbing and, despite widespread condemnation and calls for investigation into abuses, it continues. The high frequency of arrests of journalists documented in the past year is clearly a tactic designed to intimidate remaining media into silence and submission. The IFJ has considerable concerns for journalists’ safety following with the security law now in place.” 

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

Twitter: @ifjasiapacific, on Facebook: IFJAsiaPacific and Instagram