The UK has called upon the Hong Kong government to play a more active role in preserving press freedom in the territory.
The comments were made in the British government’s six-monthly report on its former colony. The report documents the implementation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration since Hong Kong’s 1997 handover to China.
The report said that during the debate on political reform in the territory, Hong Kong’s media “played an important role, with much vibrant debate on constitutional reform in the pages of Hong Kong’s newspapers and online across a variety of social media sites.”
In the report’s foreword, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said: “Freedom of the press is one of the fundamental freedoms protected by the Joint Declaration and enshrined in the Basic Law.”
“It is vital to Hong Kong’s continuing stability and prosperity that confidence in ‘One Country, Two Systems’ is fully safeguarded, and that Hong Kong continues to enjoy, and is seen to enjoy, the high degree of autonomy, rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Joint Declaration.”
The report urged Hong Kong to “ensure that crimes against journalists are investigated and perpetrators brought to justice.”
The news comes after the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) published a report on Sunday, July 12 on the state of press freedom in the territory. The HKJA report said local reporters were suffering attacks “from all quarters” and cited 30 cases of physical injuries to journalists during the pro-democracy Occupy protests last year and said that journalists were often treated with disdain by police.
Organisations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists and the Hong Kong Journalists Association have all reported on a decline in press freedom which ranges from attacks on journalists to self-censorship on stories critical of the government. According to this year’s Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Hong Kong was ranked 70th out of 180 countries, nine places down from the previous year. In 2002 it was ranked 18th.