Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said the closure of two independent media outlets in under a week is unrelated to the national security law, denying claims in a Financial Times article that press freedom in the city “faces collapse.”
“If implementation of the national security law would undermine press freedom, then we would not be seeing any press freedom in the western world. You name me which western country does not have a national security law,” Lam told HKFP at a press conference on Tuesday morning.
Lam’s weekly press conference was the first since two independent digital news outlets – Stand News and Citizen News – announced just days apart that they would be shutting down.
Last Wednesday, seven people linked to Stand News were arrested in an early morning police operation as the office was raided by 200 national security officers. The outlet announced in the afternoon that it would shut down, and by 11 p.m., its website and social media pages had been wiped.
Citizen News said on Sunday night that it would also be halting its operations. Addressing reporters the next day, top editors said its decision to shut down was prompted by the authorities’ crackdown on Stand News.
Asked by HKFP if the closure of Citizen News – which published its final updates on Monday night – amounted to a “chilling effect,” Lam said she “could not on behalf of these two organisations… explain [what is meant] by a chilling effect.”
The Chief Executive also cited a Monday article in the Financial Times with a headline that claimed the free press “faces collapse.”
“I just could not accept that sort of allegation,” Lam said. “Nothing is more important than the rule of law in Hong Kong, and journalists and media organisations, like all of us, have to respect and comply with the law,” she added.
When pressed by HKFP, Lam also said she had no plans to meet with the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) again, despite mentioning how she met them when she took office.
In a statement published on Monday, the press group said it was “heartbroken” and regrets the closure of two media outlets within a week.
“Hong Kong is hailed as ‘Asia’s world city’ with freedom of information and freedom of the press. If more media outlets halt their operations, the damage to Hong Kong’s reputation will be hard to estimate,” the HKJA wrote.
In response to another reporter’s question about the closure of Citizen News, Lam said that the shutdown “cannot be directly connected” to press freedom in Hong Kong.
“Our law enforcement bodies did not contact them, but if they have a certain views or concerns and decide to close, then this is something that happens often in the business-centric society that is Hong Kong,” she added.
Citizen News is the third outlet to close down in Hong Kong in less than half a year. Last June, pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily shut after authorities raided its headquarters and arrested top editors and directors. On its last day, Hongkongers across the city queued to buy their final copies of the 26-year-old newspaper.
International free expression watchdog Reporters Without Borders said in a December report that Hong Kong’s press freedom is in “free fall.” The report voiced concern over the Chinese Communist Party’s increasing sophistication in censoring the media.
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