US-funded Radio Free Asia closes its Hong Kong bureau over security concerns under new national security law

HONG KONG (AP) — The chairman of U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia said Friday that Hongkong The bureau has been closed due to security concerns under the new national security law, deepening concerns about media freedom in Hong Kong.

Radio Free Asia chairman Fang Fang said in a statement that while the station will retain its official media registration, it will no longer have full-time staff in Hong Kong.

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“The Hong Kong authorities’ actions, including referring to Radio Free Asia as a ‘foreign power,’ raise serious questions about our ability to operate safely following the enactment of Article 23,” Fang said.

A security camera is seen as a tourist looks at Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong, Monday, March 11, 2024. The chairman of US-funded Radio Free Asia said its Hong Kong bureau has been closed due to security concerns under the new national security law. deepening concerns about media freedom in the city. Radio Free Asia Chairman Fang Fang said in a statement on Friday, March 29, 2024 that although it will retain its official media registration, the station will no longer have full-time employees in Hong Kong. (AP Photo/Luis Delmot)

Radio Free Asia’s move is widely seen as reflecting Hong Kong’s shrinking press freedom space following the enactment of the Safeguarding National Security Ordinance, also known locally as Section 23 legislation.

Rep. Gregory Meeks, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed concern about Radio Free Asia’s closure, saying the new law “not only represents a significant escalation in efforts by authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing to suppress free speech and expression,” but also ” It also undermines media freedom and the public’s ability to access fact-based information.”

Cédric Alviani, Director, Asia Pacific Reporters Without BordersIt said the withdrawal of broadcasters was “the result of the chilling effect on the media” of the new national security law.

“We urge democratic countries to put pressure on the Chinese authorities so that press freedom is fully restored in the territory,” Alviani said.

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Hong Kong, once considered a bastion of media freedom in Asia, has changed dramatically since Beijing imposed a similar security law in 2020 following anti-government protests in 2019.

Since the introduction of the 2020 law, two local news outlets, Apple Daily and Stand News, known for critical government reporting, have been forced to close after the arrests of their senior executives, including Apple Daily publisher Jimmy Lai. .

In the latest World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, Hong Kong ranks 140th out of 180 countries and regions.

The new homeland security law, enacted through a fast-track legislative process last week, expands the government’s powers to stamp out challenges to its rule.

its goal is spy, leaking state secrets, “colluding with external forces” to commit illegal acts, etc. Some crimes, such as treason and rebellion, carry penalties of up to life in prison.

The legislation has raised concerns among many journalists about a further decline in media freedom. They worry that sweeping laws could criminalize their daily work.

Radio Free Asia, which is funded by the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media, has recently come under attack from the Hong Kong government. In January, police sent a letter to Radio Free Asia condemning “false statements” it cited by wanted activist Xu Zhihao, which they said had discredited the police force.

Former pro-democracy lawmaker Hui is among overseas activists for whom police are offering a HK$1 million ($128,000) reward for information leading to their arrest. He is accused of asking foreign countries to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China.

In February this year, Hong Kong Secretary for Security Chris Tang said some comments about the new legislation cited in Radio Free Asia’s report were “false” and “wrong.”

He did not specify the comments or reports but said they suggested some provisions of the law were targeted at the media. He insisted there were protections for the media in the legislation.

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Asked whether Radio Free Asia’s work could be considered “external interference” or “espionage,” Tang said any violations should be judged on a case-by-case basis. If someone deliberately uses false information to slander the government’s legislative work, he said that Hong Kong people must be able to see clearly the intentions of these “external forces” and those who flee and want to endanger Hong Kong’s security.

The Hong Kong government declined to comment on Friday on the operational decisions of individual organizations. But it condemned “all threatening and defamatory comments” about the new law in an emailed response.

Many other countries allegedly have security laws as well. “Singling out Hong Kong and suggesting that journalists only have concerns when working here and not in other countries is deeply biased, if not outrageous,” the statement said.

The government insists the new law targets only a tiny minority of people who endanger national security and that most journalists will not inadvertently violate the law.

Fang said that Radio Free Asia’s Hong Kong branch has been operating as a private news organization since its establishment in 1996, and its editorial independence is protected by the firewall recognized by the U.S. Congress.

“This reorganization means Radio Free Asia will move to a different journalism model reserved for closed media environments,” she said.

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But she assured RFA’s viewers in Hong Kong and mainland China that its content would “continue uninterrupted.”

Hong Kong authorities have not announced any arrests under the new law. But the government on Wednesday condemned what it called a “grossly misleading report” by the BBC about an activist who was barred under the law from having his sentence commuted or released early. Tang also wrote a letter condemning an opinion piece in The New York Times.

Articles in other international media outlets, including The Washington Post and The Times, have also been criticized by officials over the past few months.

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By Ali Raza

I am a dedicated and skilled News Content Writer with a passion for delivering accurate and engaging stories to a diverse audience. With a solid background in journalism and a keen eye for detail, I bring a commitment to excellence and a deep understanding of the evolving media landscape.

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