Following the arrests of seven staff members from pro-democracy outlet Stand News, independent Hong Kong media Citizen News has announced its permanent closure on Jan. 2.
The announcement, posted to its Twitter account, said that Citizen News would cease all operations starting Jan. 4 and thanked its readers for their support over the past five years.
On Jan. 1, chief writer Chris Yeung said that [Citizen News] had “never forgotten our initial intention, but regrettably, the drastic changes in society and the worsening of the media environment in the past two years has made it that we can no longer fulfill our ideals without any worry.”
Yeung said that the outlet could no longer gauge where the “legal boundaries” were and added that “in the eye of the wind, this small boat’s situation is severe under high winds and waves… In times of crisis, we must first ensure that everyone on the boat can be safe and secure.”
The former British colony, which was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, with the promise that its freedoms, including a free press, would be protected, has faced an increasing attack of civil liberties at the hands of Chinese police.
The closure of Stand News and Citizen News now leaves InMedia Hong Kong as the oldest digital news outlet still running in Chinese.
‘Journalists are people too’
The decision for the outlet to permanently close its doors was prompted by concerns over staff safety. “There was no other choice,” Yeung said, “Journalists are people too. [They] also have family and friends… it’s very hard to carry on like this.”
Citizen News’ closure comes a week after police raided Stand News’ office on Dec. 29 and froze its assets over offenses of “seditious publication” in the latest crackdown on the city’s media.
During the raid, Hong Kong Police arrested deputy assignment editor Ronson Chan, acting chief editor Patrick Lam, former editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen, and former director and chief science editor Chow Tai-chi. Popular singer and activist Denise Ho was also taken into police custody on charges of “conspiracy to publish a seditious publication,” but was later released on bail.
Founded in 2017 after a successful crowdfunding campaign, Citizen News was one of Hong Kong’s few remaining independent media publications. Hong Kong Free Press reported that the outlet’s financial independence had allowed the outlet to pursue critical investigations into corporate and government wrongdoing, offering readers in Hong Kong uncensored news on issues such as governmental suppression at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP.)
Independent media groups in Hong Kong have long played a critical role in the city’s political culture, particularly during major pro-democracy movements such as the 2014 Umbrella Movement and the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests. However, the city’s rights of free speech and assembly have been heavily targeted under the National Security Law, which was imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong in June 2020.
The controversial law, which mandates a maximum of life imprisonment for speaking out against the CCP or other expressions considered dangerous, contradicts the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, whereby China promised to guarantee Hong Kong’s civil liberties for at least 50 years after the UK returned the city back to Chinese sovereignty.
Democratic nations stand up for Hong Kong
Following the raid and arrest of Stand News’ staff, activists across the world were quick to voice their outrage and concern over the increased erosion of civil liberties targeting Hong Kong’s citizens.
“The arrests of six people associated with Stand News amounts to an open assault on Hong Kong’s already tattered press freedom, as China steps up direct control over the former colony,” Steven Butler, program coordinator for Hong Kong’s Committee to Protect Journalists, said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also condemned the Stand News’ raid and said the “[arrest] of seven senior staff at Stand News have forced yet another of the few remaining bastions of free and independent media in Hong Kong to cease operations.”
“Journalism is not sedition. We call on PRC and Hong Kong authorities to cease targeting Hong Kong’s free and independent media and to immediately release those journalists and media executives who have been unjustly detained and charged,”
“By silencing independent media, PRC and local authorities undermine Hong Kong’s credibility and viability. A confident government that is unafraid of the truth embraces a free press,” Blinken added.
Many other countries such as Germany, Taiwan and France have also come forward to express their support over Hong Kong’s press freedom and expressed disappointment that the two media outlets had been forced to close within one week of each other.