Though images of protests in Hong Kong no longer fill our TV screens, the struggle for change within the territory is far from over. This week, a collection of ally countries called for a fair election to be held in HK, and in a feared attack on press freedom a media tycoon has been arrested. By Sadia Nowshin.
The UK, New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the US have condemned HK’s government’s decision to postpone their election for an entire year and ban opposition candidates, who have been ‘unjustly disqualified’, from contesting the postponement.
Chief executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, announced that elections would be delayed as a result of the pandemic. However, as cases in the territory have decreased, opposition candidates have accused the government of using the virus as an excuse to postpone the vote disproportionately and put people off voting.
12 pro-democracy candidates have already been disqualified by authorities from standing in the election. In their joint statement, the foreign ministers from the five ally countries said that Hong Kong’s authorities “have undermined the democratic process that has been fundamental to” the “stability and prosperity” of the area.
Dominic Raab called for the disqualified candidates to be reinstated, and the statement unanimously supported the “expectations” of HK’s citizens to be granted “genuinely free, fair, and credible elections”.
Pro-democracy candidates had hoped that the momentum from protests against national security law being imposed in the territory would swing votes in their favour, which is possibly why the current gov in charge are keen to put the election off for as long as they can.
It’s not just elections that are under threat.
Leading pro-democracy figure and media tycoon Jimmy Lai has been arrested under the new security laws enforced by Beijing. The newspaper he runs, Apple Daily, is also being searched in what fellow journalists and activists have warned is “the day press freedom officially died”.
The 72-year-old’s arrest is feared to mark “the first step of (a) HK media blackout” and various news outlets, including Reuters and the publicly funded RTHK, were banned from the press conference that followed the raid.
Lai is one of the most publicly outspoken supporters of the pro-democracy movement. He was identified by state media as one member of the ‘Gang of Four’ openly opposing Beijing, and was recently charged for taking part in the Tiananmen Square massacre vigil in early June.
He’s accused of “collusion with foreign forces”, an offence that under the new security laws can get you up to 10 years in prison, or even life for incidents “of a grave nature”.
What could this mean for Hong Kong’s media?
Head of Hong Kong’s journalist Association Chris Yeung told reporters “I think in some third-world countries there has been this kind of press freedom suppression, I just didn’t expect it to be in Hong Kong”.
Publications already felt under threat by the new security laws, which ominously call for the “guidance, supervision and regulation” of the media and allows police to raid newsrooms without a warrant. However, this is the first time Beijing’s laws have actually been enforced on a media outlet and former journalist Claudia Mo warned that the raid of Lai’s newsroom was “sending a clear warning signal to the Hong Kong media, plus any foreign media stationed here, to behave, to watch out”.