How dare the foreign entities and politicians have the audacity to interfere in the due process of law in Hong Kong. Without looking at any evidence, they asked for the immediate release of all charged with breaches of the National Security Law for Hong Kong, including collusion with foreign governments, and called for sanctions on Hong Kong. How perverse can they be? Press freedom in Hong Kong is not being threatened as claimed by certain local and foreign media. The arrests of Apple Daily executives and its Next Digital publisher, Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, have nothing to do with infringing on press freedom; it is simply police investigating criminal acts.
The Hong Kong police’s recent raid on Apple Daily drew expected condemnation from the United States and the United Kingdom, with the chief UN human rights spokesperson, Rupert Colville, telling Reuters that it “sends a further chilling message for media freedom”.
“We call on Hong Kong authorities to respect their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in line with the Basic Law, in particular freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association and the right to participate in public affairs,” Colville said.
But press freedom defined by the United Nations and accepted by most countries is balanced against other social values, such as the citizen’s right to privacy and justice and the nation’s security. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights permits the imposition of restrictions on civil rights, including the right to freedom of expression, as long as the restrictions are provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals, or the rights and freedoms of others.
It’s a pity the chief UN human rights spokesperson does not follow the body’s own rules. The outburst by Colville is possibly in response to a request by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which submitted on May 28 an urgent appeal to the UN to “take all measures necessary to obtain the immediate release” of Apple Daily founder Lai. On the same day, Lai was sentenced to 14 months in prison by a Hong Kong court for organizing an unauthorized protest in October 2019. This sentence is added to two other sentences previously handed down for similar offenses and brings the total time Lai will serve in prison up to 20 months.
The outcry from some Western media outlets is to be expected. But not once has the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government interfered with the media on political grounds; and actions against specific media personnel have been over violation of the laws, the same laws that apply to most countries. As (Eunice) Yung said, the media is expected to operate within the law, not break it
But Hong Kong legislator Eunice Yung Hoi-yan disagreed, telling US State Department propaganda outlet Voice of America that those arrested were using Apple Daily’s platform as a “mouthpiece” to damage China and its Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. “It’s nothing about the freedom of press. For everyone, no matter if it’s a person in charge of an organization or even the press, is under the umbrella of the National Security Law,” she said. “There is no exemption for anyone in Hong Kong.”
Yung pointed out that there was a difference between being critical of the law and breaking it.
The Press Freedom Index for 2021 produced by RSF downgraded Hong Kong to 80 from one of the top positions previously, citing the arrest of Lai, its 2020 RSF Press Freedom Awards laureate. This brings the creditability of RSF into question.
When the Taiwan authorities raided Next Digital’s Taipei office, its printing plant and a reporter’s home in March 2002, confiscating over 100,000 copies of Next Magazine, there was basically no international press coverage (except for The Wall Street Journal) nor outcries from the US or the chief UN human rights spokesperson. Taipei prosecutors said an article in the magazine had violated national security laws and jeopardized Taiwan’s “diplomatic work”. The story described how the island’s former leader, Lee Teng-hui, had allegedly approved a US$100 million slush fund for the island’s “national security agency” to spy on the Chinese mainland and promote the island’s “diplomatic interests” overseas. Next publishers went ahead anyway, using an alternative printing plant, and managed to distribute almost half the usual number of copies.
Taipei legal assistant Wen-chi Yu wrote in The Wall Street Journal: “While press freedom is vital to democracy and freedom, a line must be drawn between national security and press freedom.” The narrative is simple: A law enforcement authority raiding a publisher’s office in Taiwan and seizing copies of its magazines is not against press freedoms according to US and UK norms, but it is in Hong Kong. Hypocrisy and double standards by the US and the UK are firmly believed by the international community through the distribution of falsehoods and disinformation.
The outcry from some Western media outlets is to be expected. But not once has the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government interfered with the media on political grounds; and actions against specific media personnel have been over violation of the laws, the same laws that apply to most countries. As Yung said, the media is expected to operate within the law, not break it.
The author is a former chief information officer of the Hong Kong government, a PR/media consultant, and a veteran journalist.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS