A statement signed by 21 western nations has condemned Hong Kong’s press freedom crackdown and the arrests of journalists at the now-defunct independent media outlet Stand News.

File photo: United Social Press.

Tuesday’s statement – signed by the US, UK, Australia, Canada and 17 other states – said that “authorities have targeted and suppressed independent media.”

Explainer: Press freedom under the national security law

“This has eroded the protected rights and freedoms set out in the Basic Law and undermines China’s obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration. This has also caused the near-complete disappearance of local independent media outlets in Hong Kong. These ongoing actions further undermine confidence in Hong Kong’s international reputation through the suppression of human rights, freedom of speech and free flow and exchange of opinions and information.”

Hong Kong authorities have said that press freedom is intact, deeming foreign criticism a violation of international law.

File photo: StudioIncendo.

Tuesday’s statement made reference to Citizen News – another independent media outlet that closed shortly after December’s Stand News police raid, citing staff safety concerns.

See also: Timeline: Hong Kong’s non-profit outlet Stand News through the years

On December 29, seven figures linked to Stand News were arrested as authorities raided its office and froze HK$61 million in assets. By the afternoon, the popular outlet announced that it was shutting down and, by the end of the day, its website and social media pages had gone dark. Two former top editors, Chung Pui-kuen and Patrick Lam, were charged with allegedly conspiring to publish seditious publications the next day.

The 21-nation statement – click to view

The undersigned members of the Media Freedom Coalition express their deep concern at the Hong Kong and mainland Chinese authorities’ attacks on freedom of the press and their suppression of independent local media in Hong Kong.

Recent developments include the raid of Stand News offices, the arrests of its staff, and the subsequent self-closure of Citizen News, stemming from concern over the safety of its staff. Since the enactment of the National Security Law in June 2020, authorities have targeted and suppressed independent media in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. This has eroded the protected rights and freedoms set out in the Basic Law and undermines China’s obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration. This has also caused the near-complete disappearance of local independent media outlets in Hong Kong. These ongoing actions further undermine confidence in Hong Kong’s international reputation through the suppression of human rights, freedom of speech and free flow and exchange of opinions and information.

A stable and prosperous Hong Kong in which human rights and fundamental freedoms are protected should be in everybody’s interest. We urge Hong Kong and mainland Chinese authorities to respect freedom of the press and freedom of speech in Hong Kong, in line with the Basic Law and China’s obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

Signed by the Governments of Australia, Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States.

See also: Work as usual, then tears as Hong Kong’s Citizen News bids farewell

The group of nations urged the city to protect press freedom to ensure “stable and prosperous Hong Kong in which human rights and fundamental freedoms are protected should be in everybody’s interest.”

Reporter Ronson Chan was seen back at the Stand News office shortly after being released on Wednesday, December 29, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

On Wednesday evening, a Hong Kong government spokesperson rebuffed the “misleading and baseless allegations by foreign entities.” They said the press freedom was guaranteed by the law but “the exercising of the freedoms of the press and speech must comply with the restrictions of the law for reasons including protection of national security.”

The statement was signed by the governments of Australia, Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

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Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.