Keith Richburg, the president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, has apologised to the judges of the annual Human Rights Press Awards after the club announced it was cancelling this year’s awards, citing “red lines” and legal risks. The event was slated for May 3, World Press Freedom Day.

“This was not an easy decision for anyone, but after a lengthy and emotional debate, the FCC Board of Governors overwhelmingly agreed that the challenges posed by continuing were too great,” Richburg wrote in an email to the judges sent on Tuesday night, which has been seen by HKFP.

FCC Hong Kong foreign correspondents' club
Foreign Correspondents’ Club. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Richburg wrote in the email that pulling the plug on the awards was “in the best interests” of the club, its staff and board members, and those responsible for the awards. He added that the FCC had tried to host the awards alone after the withdrawal of the event’s founding partners and co-sponsors, Amnesty International Hong Kong, which closed its Hong Kong office last year.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association, another founding partner of the awards, is currently under investigation by the Registry of Trade Unions, which has ordered it to provide financial information and explain some of its social media posts

Richburg, who is running unopposed for re-election as president of the FCC, told HKFP that since most of the current board members would be returning, it was unlikely that the decision to suspend the awards would be reversed.

However, Richburg said he was “absolutely confident” that the awards would continue. “As having the Awards in Hong Kong has become untenable, it will likely continue with new sponsors and from a new location,” he said without giving further details.

‘New normal’

In his email, Richburg wrote of a “new normal” in Hong Kong, which “made it effectively impossible to have a Human Rights Press Award with integrity.”

The FCC’s Press Freedom Committee, which oversees the running of the Human Rights Press Awards, saw eight members resign in protest over the decision to call off this year’s awards. One person also resigned from the FCC board.

HKFP learned on Monday that the cancellation of this year’s Human Rights Press Awards was related to local outlet Stand News winning a number of title. The now-defunct outlet was slated to receive nine accolades, including for its coverage on the Yuen Long mob attack in July 2019 and the last days of Apple Daily, which was forced to shutter just a few months prior to Stand News.

‘Seditious publications’

Stand News folded last December after police raided its office and arrested its senior editorial and managerial staff. It was accused of publishing “seditious materials” between the enactment of the security law last June and November 2021 with intent to cause hatred towards the government, the judiciary and cause discontent among the public.

Former acting chief editor of Stand News Patrick Lam was seen taken away by national security police.
Former acting chief editor of Stand News Patrick Lam was seen taken away by national security police on December 28, 2021. Photo: Supplied.

Two former employees and its parent company have been charged with allegedly conspiring to publish “seditious publications” under the colonial-era Crimes Ordinance.

The Human Rights Press Awards began in 1996. This year, which was supposed to be its 26th, marks the first time the FCC has not held the annual awards.

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Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.