Hong Kong continues to languish near the bottom of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) press freedom ranking released on Wednesday’s World Press Freedom Day.

The city ranked 140th among the 180 regions in the international media watchdog’s latest ranking, trailing behind Colombia and Cameroon. China ranked 179th, just above North Korea.

The 2023 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index
[Click to enlarge] The 2023 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index map. Photo: RSF.

The city’s ranking has plummeted following the enactment of the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Hong Kong’s press freedom ranking rose eight place from last year’s 148, but the free expression NGO said the situation had not improved and the move was mostly due to the movement of other territories.

“The slight rise in the index this year is mostly due to the fact of adjustment in the index after [a] sharp drop of 68 places last year – at the same time, Hong Kong has scored lower or the same as last year in three [of] five indicators… and most notably the lowest in the legal factor,” Cédric Alviani, East Asia bureau director of RSF, told HKFP.

Journalists behind bars

The bureau director said that the legal factor “should not come by surprise,” citing the trials against top editors of defunct media outlets Apple Daily and Stand News. He said that the watchdog recorded 13 “press freedom defenders” detained under “trumped up charges.”

Country Ranking RSF Press Freedom Index
Rankings in the 2023 RSF Press Freedom Index. Photo: RSF.

Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai has been sentenced to five years and nine months in prison over a fraud case. His trial under the security law and the colonial-era sedition law – where he is accused of conspiring to collude with foreign forces and an offence linked to allegedly seditious publications – will resume in September.

Press Freedom Ranking
Photo: RSF.

Meanwhile, the sedition trial against two ex-top editors of Stand News – Chung Pui-kuen and Patrick Lam – will resume in June for parties to submit closing arguments. The pair were remanded for close to a year before they were granted bail in November and December last year.

“In the past month – and week – we also have observed cases of media outlets being barred from reporting on official events, while a few journalists including from independent online media outlets have been followed,” Alviani told HKFP.

Cédric Alviani
Cédric Alviani. Photo RSF.

He also said that RSF had observed “an increasing number of journalists in exile,” including those who made “a very difficult decision to leave their home due to increasing pressure from the government” for places including the UK and Taiwan.

Hong Kong’s government watchdog agreed to investigate HKFP’s complaint against the Information Services Department over their handling of a press event, after several government-registered outlets were barred from attending a national security education day event without explanation.

Alviani said that the slight change in the city’s ranking in the index should not be seen as an improvement, but instead due to the ranking movement of other countries and the index adjustment.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.