Third Hong Kong news organization closes amid crackdown on dissent


Popular Hong Kong media organization Citizen News has announced it will cease operations in the wake of a national security police raid on pro-democracy news site Stand News, which folded after two of its senior journalists were arrested for "sedition" last week.

"Citizen News will cease operations from Jan. 4, 2022," the site said in a post to its Facebook page at the weekend. "The website will no longer be updated, and will eventually close down entirely."

"It is with great sadness that we thank all of our subscribers for their support; we will carry your deep love with us, recorded in our memories," the award-winning platform, crowdfunded in 2017, told its more than 800,000 followers.

"We have been trying our best not to violate any laws but we can no longer see clearly the boundaries of law enforcement and we feel that it's no longer safe to continue our work," Citizen News co-founder Chris Yeung, who has previously served as president of the Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA) told journalists on Monday.

"Journalists are people too, with families and friends, and we need to take the fact that this is an unsafe environment seriously," Yeung said.

Citizen News chief editor Daisy Li, also a former HKJA president, said trying to operate within the confines of an ongoing crackdown on freedom of the press wasn't an option.

"I can't even figure out whether such-and-such a story or report, or even such a sentence ... will break the law under the new regime we have, and I'm the editor-in-chief," Li said.

"If I'm not confident managing our reporters to keep working ... then surely I have some responsibility towards them [to stop]?" she said. "Can we stickto safe news? Is that even possible?"

Yeung said Citizen News hadn't been contacted by law enforcement, but had taken a preemptive decision based on what happened to Stand News.

The Dec. 29 raid saw more than 200 police officers raid Stand News offices, and seven people arrested on suspicion of "sedition" under a colonial-era law. An asset freeze using powers under the national security law prompted the outlet to cease operations immediately and lay off all staff.

Two senior editors at the now-shuttered Stand News have now been charged under colonial-era sedition laws, while five other arrestees have been granted bail.

The nationalistic Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to CCP mouthpiece the People's Daily, said Citizen News had used its privilege to criticize Beijing and the Hong Kong authorities, and showed it was likely "unable to adapt to the new situation" in Hong Kong, where the national security law forbids such criticism.

The site's closure comes after it was denounced by Hong Kong secretary for security Chris Tang for a "misleading report" after it said he had refused to guarantee that freedom of speech would be protected, despite being promised in Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

"Similar to Stand News, it also published articles harshly criticizing the central government and also the Communist Party of China. For example, in an article published in June, it referred to the CPC leadership as "dictatorship" and criticized it for "abusing its power" in controlling the local governance in Hong Kong," the Global Times said.

"Despite a chorus of Western media-led criticism, the Hong Kong government will continue implementing the national security law ... to regulate media outlets, which cannot become platforms for instigating social conflicts or anti-China movements, nor a channel for brainwashing and poisoning the mind's of Hong Kong's youths," it said.

Political commentator To Yiu-ming said that once national security police have targeted media outlets for "sedition," the authorities will likely move ahead with plans to crack down on what they say is "fake news."

"Just like the Ministry of Truth in [George Orwell's dystopian novel] 1984, they will be the one sole source of the truth, and only they can know or judge which news is true," To told RFA.

"Its similar to the old Soviet-style concept of news, in which those in power decide what is true and what isn't, and the media are only allowed to convey the official truth," he said.

'This has shocked the whole world'

On the democratic island of Taiwan, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker Liu Shih-fang said that Hong Kong had seen the demise of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, Stand News and Citizen News in recent months, indicating that the CCP's promises of freedom of speech and publication for Hong Kong were officially now dead.

"This has shocked the whole world," Liu told RFA. "We never expected that [CCP leader] Xi Jinping and [Hong Kong chief executive] Carrie Lam would ensure that there was no room whatsoever for freedom of speech."

"Nor that freedom and democracy would disappear bit by bit [in Hong Kong]," Liu said.

Liu called on the ruling DPP and "all progressive forces" in Taiwan and around the world to stand in solidarity with Hong Kong.

"We should do our best to help in any way we can," Liu said. "I also call on the international community to ... condemn high-ranking officials in Hong Kong," Liu said.

Former Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kei, who fled to Taiwan after been detained by Chinese police for selling banned political books to customers in mainland China, appeared less surprised.

"It's obvious that any publication is now going to be subjected to strict censorship," Lam said. "It's possible that the publishing industry will be exactly the same as that in mainland China, where any book without a [CCP-approved] book number is considered illegal."

"We have already seen curbs on the screening of movies and musical performances," he said. "I can't see any indication that this will let up; to put it bluntly, Hongkongers are finished."

Former Stand News acting editor-in-chief Patrick Lam and former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen, and the company that owns the media outlet were charged with conspiring "together and with other persons, to publish and/or reproduce seditious publications", court documents showed.

They also stand accused of inciting "hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection" against the government and the incitement of "persons to violence".

Four former Stand News board members including Cantopop star Denise Ho were released on bail without charge, while the seventh arrestee, Chan Pui-man, is already in custody awaiting trial on separate charges under the national security law, which was imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing from July 1, 2020 following citywide pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Hong Kong on Monday swore in a new batch of members of the city's Legislative Council (LegCo), who were elected under new rules designed to ensure that only "patriots" pre-approved by a Beijing-backed committee can stand in elections.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.