Hong Kong leader says she can not accept allegations of press freedom facing ‘annihilation’

HONG KONG, JANUARY 4 (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday she could not accept proposals that the city’s press freedom be facing “annihilation” just days after police raided an online media outlet and arrested seven people, including senior editors.

Lam spoke at a weekly news conference when another independent online business, Citizen News, suspended operations in light of what it described as a “deteriorating” media environment in the Chinese-run former British colony.

“This morning I read news that, due to the closure of the online media, freedom of the press in Hong Kong is facing extinction … I just can not accept that kind of allegation,” Lam said, adding that nothing was more important than the rule of law.

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Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise that far-reaching individual rights, including a free press, would be protected. But rights groups and some Western governments say freedoms have been eroded, especially since Beijing introduced a national security law on Hong Kong in 2020.

Hong Kong CEO Carrie Lam speaks at a press conference in Beijing, China on December 22, 2021. REUTERS / Shubing Wang

The government has repeatedly refused to target the media and restrict the freedoms of the global financial center. China says rights advocacy is being used as an attempt to disrupt Hong Kong’s progress after national security law restored stability.

Officers raided the office of Stand News’ online publication last week, froze its assets and arrested seven current and former senior editors and former board members. Two editors have been charged with sedition. Read more

Lam has cracked down on foreign governments demanding the release of the seven, saying such a move would be against the rule of law of the former British colony.

Police operation against Stand News came the day after Hong Kong prosecutors raised a further charge of rebellion against imprisoned media mogul Jimmy Lai, 74, from the now-closed, pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily. Read more

On Monday, the online publication Citizen News said the decision to suspend operations from Tuesday was triggered by the closure and arrests on Stand News and to ensure the safety of its staff. Read more

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Reporting by Edmond Ng and Donny Kwok, writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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