An international press freedom watchdog has accused Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam of trampling on the city’s press freedom, listing her as a “predator” in a report released on Monday.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s report came as the chief executive claimed the Beijing-imposed national security law had improved press freedom in its first year of implementation.
Lam was included in a “blacklist” of 37 world leaders which the group said had “cracked down massively on press freedoms.”
“The chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region since 2017, Lam has proved to be the puppet of Chinese President Xi Jinping, and now openly supports his predatory policies towards the media,” its report read.
It cited the closure of the city’s largest pro-democracy news organisation Apple Daily last month and the detention of its founder Jimmy Lai and veteran democrat Claudia Mo. Apple Daily was forced to close last month after authorities arrested five executives and froze company accounts.
“Carrie Lam has relentlessly targeted symbols of press freedom in Hong Kong,” the Paris-headquartered watchdog added.
The report also accused Lam of launching a “full-blown intimidation campaign” against public broadcaster RTHK. Since March, the broadcaster has cancelled news shows, fired staff, and implemented a new editorial committee overseen by Director of Broadcasting Patrick Li, a former bureaucrat with no journalistic experience.
Lam was one of the first two females included on the list, which has been compiled for two decades.
“Each of these predators has their own style. Some impose a reign of terror by issuing irrational and paranoid orders. Others adopt a carefully constructed strategy based on draconian laws,” RSF’s Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said of the report.
“A major challenge now is for these predators to pay the highest possible price for their oppressive behaviour. We must not let their methods become the new normal.”
China’s leader Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin were also included on the list, as well as Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.
RSF’s report came as Lam said Hong Kong’s press freedom had been bolstered by the national security law during an opening speech at a legal forum to celebrate the legislation on Monday.
“The media and the general public exercise their right to monitor the government’s work and the freedom of criticising policies every day, while overseas media disseminate information about the national security law continuously, interviewing people with various stances without any interference,” Lam said.
She added that an increase in the number of local, online and international media organisations officially registered with the government was a sign of the city’s healthy press freedom.
Speaking at the same forum, Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng said press freedom will be protected if reporters “act in good faith.”
The National Security Law Legal Forum, organised by the Department of Justice on Monday, featured key local and central officials as well as legal commentators.
International rights groups say authorities have used the Beijing-imposed security law to quash political dissent and seriously undermine Hong Kong’s human rights in the year since it came into force.