Arrest in Hong Kong signals ‘erosion of press freedom’

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The arrest in Hong Kong of a journalism professor has troubled scholars and journalists.

Authorities arrested Allan Au, a lecturer and consultant at the School of Journalism at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), on April 11 for allegedly conspiring to publish seditious material.

Au, who was released without charge, is the third journalist linked to the Stand News news site to be arrested.

“This arrest sends a disturbing message and signals a chilling effect on outspoken opinion writers as well as academics who engage in public debate,” said Eric Yan-ho Lai, a law and education expert. Politics.

“Dr. Au’s research and teaching interests are censorship and self-censorship in the journalism industry. His arrest is obviously, and sadly, an example of how authorities censor and punish dissenting voices in the city,” Yan-ho Lai told VOA. .

FILE – Stand News’ acting editor Patrick Lam, one of six people arrested ‘for conspiring to publish a seditious publication’ according to the Hong Kong Police’s National Security Department, is escorted by police after police raided his office in Hong Kong, China, December 29. 2021.

The Hong Kong Security Bureau’s press office told VOA via email that it does not comment on individual cases.

The email, attributed to a spokesperson, said people and organizations “must follow the laws” and that any law enforcement action must be “evidence-based, strictly in accordance with the law. “.

The email added that freedom of the press is protected by laws and the city’s bill of rights, but is “not absolute and may be restricted for reasons such as protecting national security.”

For two decades, Au, 54, worked as a producer for TVB News before moving into academia. He was a Knight Fellow at Stanford University in 2006 and earned a Ph.D. from CUHK, where he later worked as a lecturer with a focus on new media and censorship.

He has also provided commentary for Ming Pao Newspaper and Stand News, as well as his own blog. Often these writings touched on sensitive issues such as national security law.

Stand News ceased operations on December 29 after police raided its newsroom as part of a sedition investigation.

FILE - A police officer collects a box of evidence after a search of the office of Stand News, in Hong Kong, China, December 29, 2021.

FILE – A police officer collects a box of evidence after a search of the office of Stand News, in Hong Kong, China, December 29, 2021.

News site editors Chung Pui-kuen and Patrick Lam were charged under colonial-era laws. Both were denied bail.

Authorities did not say what articles or content led to Au’s arrest, but Yan-ho Lai said he believed it was “strongly possible” it was related to the Stand News case. .

He said two pro-Beijing newspapers have highlighted articles by the academic that they believe may be seditious.

Lokman Tsui, a former media professor at CUHK who is now in the Netherlands, said Au’s arrest shows “a steady escalation of repression and erosion of press freedom”.

“It seems the authorities are now going after people with signatures and public intellectuals. The authorities are instilling a massive culture of fear and self-censorship,” said Tsui, an expert on free speech and digital rights, to VOA.

“(Au est) a journalist and a journalism professor with a conscience, with the courage to be critical,” Tsui added.

After the arrest, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said, “Hong Kong’s position as a free global financial center depends on the free flow of information and opinion.

“Journalism is not a crime,” Price added in a tweet.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said the Hong Kong authorities are determined to eradicate press freedom.

“The detention of a third Stand News journalist…months after the media was forced to close shows the government’s determination to put an end to press freedom in the territory,” the head of the Asia bureau said. East of the group, Cédric Alviani, in a press release.

RSF said Hong Kong’s reliance on legal action, including the national security law, to punish what it considers “crimes against the state” has made journalism more dangerous.

Any outlet that takes a pro-democracy stance risks being targeted by the authorities, according to Keith Richburg, a journalism professor at the University of Hong Kong.

“I think it’s inevitable that you’ll see a lot more reporting on Hong Kong from outside Hong Kong, just because the restrictions are too great and the risks too great,” Richburg told VOA in January after the closure of Stand News.

Space for media freedom has shrunk, with pro-democracy newspapers, including the iconic Apple Daily, being forced to close, and changes at public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) have brought criticism to question its editorial independence.

Au was a radio host at RTHK for 11 years until a broadcaster overhaul last year led to several contracts not being renewed.

Apple Daily shut down in June 2021 after authorities charged senior executives under security law and froze the company’s financial assets. Jimmy Lai, the company’s founder who has been in jail since late 2020, could face life in prison if convicted.

Lai and his lawyers appealed in early April for the United Nations to investigate his imprisonment for “lawful harassment”.

A statement from Lai’s lawyer said the media mogul faces life in prison “simply for speaking out and for seeking to uphold press freedom, democracy and the rule of law in Hong Kong.” Lai’s lawyers are waiting for an answer.

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