China has lashed out at “slander” by Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) after the club expressed concern over the arrest of the head of the city’s largest journalist group.

Ronson Chan
Hong Kong Journalists Association Chairman Ronson Chan. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

On Wednesday, veteran journalist and chairman of Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) Ronson Chan was arrested for obstructing police officers and disorder in a public place while covering a home owners’ committee meeting for online outlet Channel C. He was released on bail after being held at the Mong Kok police station for about 11 hours.

The FCC in a statement on Wednesday night, expressed concern over Chan’s arrest.

“Given Mr. Chan’s position as a prominent leader in Hong Kong’s journalism community, the FCC strongly urges the authorities to exercise transparency and care in handling Mr. Chan’s case. This is especially important given the international attention on press freedom in Hong Kong,” its statement read.

‘Slandering’ effort

The Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) on Thursday issued a strongly-worded statement hitting back at the FCC, accusing it of trying to “undermine Hong Kong’s rule of law in the name of press freedom.”

The Commissioner's Office of China's Foreign Ministry in the Hong Kong SAR
Photo: The Commissioner’s Office of China’s Foreign Ministry in the Hong Kong SAR.

It said it “strongly disapproved and firmly rejected” the move by the FCC and what it called a few Western anti-China politicians to “slander the action taken by the Hong Kong Police towards certain members” of the HKJA in accordance with the law.

Police said Chan refused to comply with a request to show his identity card.

“[T]here is no absolute press freedom anywhere in the world that could be above law, and the identity of a journalist doesn’t mean they have amnesty or enjoy immunity for whatever they do. All journalists in Hong Kong must strictly abide by the laws of the HKSAR, and no one should engage in activities that damage Hong Kong’s stability under the name of journalism,” the statement read.

The commissioner’s office said the FCC and the West “took every opportunity to attack the SAR Government and supported anti-China forces in Hong Kong,” but “their tricks will bite the dust.”

Right to reporting

HKJA also issued a statement on Thursday, expressing regret and condemning the police action.

According to HKJA, when Chan was about to show a policewoman his ID card, another plain-clothes officer suddenly appeared and yelled at Chan, demanding him to cooperate. Chan then requested that officer to show his warrant card to verify his identity. Chan was cuffed and arrested a couple of minutes later.

Chan also accused the policeman of being too forceful during the process, causing bruises on his wrists, as well as shouting at him using foul language.

HKJA criticised the authorities of unreasonable treatment against Chan, when he was being cooperative.

“Police behaviour makes one suspect that they make things difficult for journalists in the name of routine stop and search work. It harms journalists’ rights to reporting… and oppresses press freedom,” the HKJA statement read.

HKJA a target

The HKJA has increasingly been a target of government officials and pro-Beijing media outlets in recent years. State-backed Wen Wei Po last year labelled the association an “anti-government political organisation” which defends “fake news.”

Secretary for Security Chris Tang also accused the group at the time of “breaching professional ethics” by backing the idea that “everyone is a journalist.”

Several media outlets shut down and some had their newsrooms raided after the Beijing-imposed national security law took effect in June 2020. Some veteran journalists were arrested over national security or sedition charges.

The government has repeatedly said press freedom exists in the city, with Chief Executive John Lee saying there was no need to ask him to “defend” it.

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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.