Inaugural Hong Kong Media Bulletin: Stand News Trial, Anti-Xi Posters, New Exile Journalist Association
The inaugural issue of the monthly Hong Kong Media Bulletin looks at the Stand News trial, RTHK’s new director, and resignations at the South China Morning Post.
Image of the month: Anti-Xi wave hits Hong Kong
This image shows three posters, inspired by the “Bridge Man protest in Beijing, posted at the entrance to the Legislative Council Complex in Hong Kong. Hong Kong police later arrested a mainland Chinese man surnamed Shi on sedition charges for placing the posters and sharing a photo with the Citizen Daily Instagram account. Authorities claimed the posters’ content could “provoke hatred or contempt” of Chinese state president Xi Jinping. (Source: 公民日報)
Highlights from this issue:
- Stand News chief editor bailed as trial against outlet hits procedural problems
- New head of RTHK assumes post, vows close relationship with police
- Hong Kong protest anthem played at rugby tournament in South Korea
- Launch of Association of Overseas Hong Kong Media Professionals
- Trial of Hong Kong democrats to open in January
Stand News trial, new RTHK chief, SCMP kills Uyghur story, and sedition convictions
This past month, Xi Jinping affirmed his complete dominance over mainland China and Hong Kong. During a speech at the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th party congress, Xi claimed that Beijing-imposed changes on the territory brought it from “chaos to governance.” Hong Kong’s chief executive and other politicians promoted Xi’s message through online posts and press conferences while ignoring the drastic narrowing of human rights and fundamental freedoms under Xi’s regime. Hong Kong media hardly covered the Bridge Man protest held against Xi on October 13, days ahead of the congress, though students and other residents joined the global anti-Xi poster campaign. Other updates on press freedom and free expression from the past month include:
- Stand News chief editor bailed as trial against outlet hits procedural problems: The trial against now-shuttered independent digital news outlet Stand News and two of its editors on charges of conspiring to publish “seditious publications” opened on October 31. Days later, on November 7, Patrick Lam, the former acting editor in chief, was released on bail after spending nearly a year in pretrial detention. The judge granted bail after prosecutors submitted 1,500 new pages of documents into evidence in the middle of the trial which the defense had not been allowed to review, including screenshots of articles taken by national security police starting the day Apple Daily shut down. Another editor in the trial, Chung Pui-kuen, remains in custody as he had not applied for bail. The next hearing will take place in December.
- New head of RTHK assumes post, vows close relationship with police: The new chief of state broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), Eddie Cheung, took up his post in early October. Cheung, who has no media experience, was previously based in Brussels as a special representative for the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Affairs Office to the European Union. On November 10, Cheung was interviewed by the security minister Chris Tang on his Facebook show, and vowed to “collaborate seamlessly” with the police and other government departments when asked about the “tense” relationship between the broadcaster and police in 2020. RTHK previously independently and critically covered events in Hong Kong, leading to a government takeover.
- Journalists resign after SCMP kills Xinjiang story: In October, a former editor from the South China Morning Post revealed that he and two other journalists had resigned in 2021 after a senior editor killed their three-part series on birth control policies in Xinjiang. Evidence around the government’s birth control policies are among the many factors that support allegations that the Chinese government has committed acts of genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Muslims, and was raised by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. There have been ongoing concerns about Alibaba’s ownership of the newspaper, though it has also allowed other independent reporting.
Freedom of expression cases
- Sedition arrests, convictions continue: Hong Kongers continue to face prosecution under the colonial-era sedition law, which has been used to restrict freedom of expression. On October 25, Hong Kong police arrested a mainland Chinese man surnamed Shi on sedition charges for putting up posters about the Bridge Man protest in Beijing and sharing them on social media; authorities claimed the content could “provoke hatred or contempt” of Xi. On October 17, Garry Pang Moon-yuen, a pastor, and Chiu Mei-ying, both of whom regularly attended trials of prodemocracy protesters, received 12- and 3-month sentences, respectively, for clapping in a courtroom and criticizing the verdict against a prodemocracy activist.
- Hong Kong advocacy groups call out bankers for attending summit: In October, a group of US-based Hong Kong advocacy groups denounced the attendance of US bank executives at a Hong Kong government–organized summit in an open letter. The summit, which opened on November 2, included events with Hong Kong chief executive John Lee, who has been sanctioned by the US government for human rights violations. The advocacy groups found support from US congressman Jim McGovern, who said the bankers’ presence legitimized the territorial government’s crackdown.
- Launch of Association of Overseas Hong Kong Media Professionals: On October 31, a new UK-based organization launched to assist and advocate for Hong Kong media professionals who have been forced to resettle overseas as well as journalists remaining in the territory. The association has received funding from the International Federation of Journalists and is collaborating with Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the National Union of Journalists, a trade union representing journalists in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
- Hong Kong protest anthem played at rugby tournament in South Korea: On November 13, “Glory to Hong Kong,” the 2019 prodemocracy protesters’ unofficial anthem, was played at the opening of a rugby match between Hong Kong and South Korea. Both men’s teams were competing at the Asian Rugby Seven Series in the South Korean city of Incheon. The organizers apologized claiming that the song was downloaded from the internet by mistake. The Hong Kong government denounced the incident. The territorial government had declined to publicly declare “Glory to Hong Kong” illegal, though the Education Bureau banned it from schools.
What to watch for
- Trial of Hong Kong democrats to open in January: The trial of 17 Hong Kong prodemocracy activists who took part in an unofficial primary election in 2020 will open in early January. The group all pled not guilty, while 30 others arrested in the case have pled guilty and await sentencing. Watch for whether the trial, which will not have a jury, respects due process rights or becomes a sham trial.
- Tightening restrictions at Hong Kong libraries: The University of Hong Kong introduced a new system to make books that are considered politically sensitive, such as those written by activists or about the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, more difficult to access without registering. The move comes as the territory’s public library system launched two writing contests, only to prohibit entries deemed to endanger national security. Watch for increased restrictions on books and the library system to prohibit free expression and access to information on vague national security grounds.
- Pro-Beijing Hong Kong group kicked off Facebook: On October 30, Meta took down the Facebook page of Save HK, a popular pro-Beijing Facebook group, for unspecified “community violations.” Such takedowns previously hit pro- and antigovernment groups in early 2021, including Save HK for a brief period. Watch for nontransparent content moderation and takedown measures on international social media platforms in Hong Kong, which remain an open channel for free expression in the territory.
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