The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) said it was extremely concerned over news site HK01 allegedly pulling reports on details of the Tiananmen massacre recorded in declassified UK files.

The files contained telegrams sent by then-British ambassador Alan Donald to the foreign office. Donald cited a member of the Chinese State Council as estimating that at least 10,000 civilians were killed in the crackdown on June 4, 1989.

HK01 published two reports on the documents on Wednesday morning but they were taken down within hours. HKJA said the reports were only republished at 5 pm after demands from HK01’s news department, and after multiple changes had been made, including the Chinese translation for “member of the Chinese State Council.” The Association said it understood that HK01 planned two days of coverage, but Thursday’s coverage was pulled.

The reports after being removed. Photo: Citizen News.

“We are extremely concerned about self-censorship owing to the political sensitivity of the reports,” HKJA said in a statement. “It is suspicious for HK01 to publish the first batch of reports, retract them, and republish only after modifications. It is also unusual for the second batch of reports to be shelved, causing worries over political factors.”

The HK01 website was launched in January 2016 and its weekly publication was launched in March of that year. Often carrying breaking news, investigative reports and political gossip stories citing unidentified sources, the site has been criticised for its conservative, if not pro-Beijing editorials. It courted controversy after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was spotted at the newspaper’s launch party.

In one of the reports republished on Wednesday, the phrase “over 10,000 civilians dead” was removed from the headline, and “27 Army shooting soldiers” was changed to “27 Army shooting – students and soldiers both shot.”

Among the paragraphs removed in the updated version of the report was a quote from the documents: “Students understood they were given one hour to leave square but after five minutes APCs [armoured personnel carriers] attacked. Students linked arms but were mown down including soldiers. APCs then ran over bodies time and time again to make ‘PIE’ and remains collected by bulldozer.”

The article was changed several times until Friday noon. Photo: Screenshot.

The updated version also removed information from the document including the name of the commander of the 27 Army of Shanxi Province, the troop responsible for the massacre. Its commander was Yang Zhenhua, the nephew of Yang Shangkun, China’s president at the time.

“[The 27 Army] were kept without news for ten days and told they were to take part in exercise,” another quote removed from the report said.

HKJA said Lung King-cheong, chief editor of HK01, denied that the news site pulled the first batch of reports. He said they made changes after considering news angles. He also told HKJA that he did not know about the second batch of reports as he never saw them.

HKJA also said that Chik Pun-yip, HK01’s executive chief editor, did not directly confirm whether the second batch was shelved. He said two reports were already published on Wednesday and there was no plan to publish more related reports.

Apple Daily cited unnamed “HK01 internal sources” as saying that the outlet’s owner Yu Pun-hoi ordered the reports published on Wednesday to be retracted.

HKFP has contacted HK01 for comment.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.