US-based NGO Human Rights Watch will co-host Hong Kong’s Human Rights Press Awards after the city’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) cancelled the event earlier this year.

Human Rights Watch. Screenshot: YouTube, via Human Rights Watch.

“Human Rights Watch is pleased to continue the tradition of recognizing, rewarding, and supporting great reporting on human rights issues, especially at this critical time in Asia,” said Tirana Hassan, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch – which along with other rights groups were sanctioned by Beijing last July – will join Arizona State University (ASU)’s journalism school in administering the press awards. The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication announced in May that it would take over the organisation of the awards from the FCC.

The FCC had hosted it for 25 years before scrapping it after local outlet Stand News – editors of which are facing sedition charges – won nine accolades.

The cancellation of the awards sparked debate about the club’s role in supporting press freedom in Hong Kong, which activists and rights groups say have been under threat since the passing of Beijing’s national security law in June 2020.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Founded in 1996, the Human Rights Press Awards honours rights-related reporting from around Asia, with English and Chinese language categories for entries in categories ranging from breaking news stories to documentaries.

“In a time of disinformation and propaganda, powerful fact-based reporting on what is happening in China, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and so many other places is crucially important,” Hassan added.

The awards will begin accepting entries from Thursday, with winners to be announced on May 3, coinciding with Press Freedom Day.

Human Rights Watch said winners of this year’s awards, which were not officially announced, would be recognised alongside the latest awardees.

‘Red lines’

The Human Rights Press Awards were meant to take place in May. But in late April, the FCC announced that it would not hold the awards as the club did not “wish unintentionally to violate the law.”

Journalists at a press conference. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The decision was reportedly related to wins by Stand News. The local media outlet had won nine awards for works related to strikes by Foodpanda drivers, the July 21, 2019 attacks at Yuen Long MTR station and the closure of pro-democracy outlet Apple Daily, among other issues.

Stand News shut down last December after a police raid and the arrest of two editors. Former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen has been detained since then, while former acting chief editor Patrick Lam was released on bail only last month.

Ex-chief editor of Stand News Patrick Lam is released on bail on November 7, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

FCC president Keith Richburg said at the time of the awards’ cancellation that the club did not wish to “unintentionally” violate the law amid “red lines” that journalists have been forced to navigate over the past two years.

The press club’s move prompted a board member to step down and eight members of the club’s press freedom committee to resign.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.