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West Urged to Fight Against 'Dire' State of Press Freedom in Hong Kong

FILE - Stand News acting chief editor Patrick Lam, one of the six people arrested "for conspiracy to publish seditious publication" according to Hong Kong's Police National Security Department, is escorted by police after the police searched his office, Dec. 29, 2021.

Heavy-handed government action, self-censorship and physical threats against journalists have left Hong Kong's media freedoms in a "dire" state, a UK-based campaign group said Tuesday.

Hong Kong Watch urged Western countries to defend journalists in the former British territory, including by offering them visas and outlets for Cantonese-language programming.

The governments of both Hong Kong and China were guilty of "dismantling media freedom in Hong Kong,” in part through a sweeping National Security Law imposed by Beijing in 2020, the group said.

"The situation for media freedom in Hong Kong is dire," it said in a new report.

"The international community must not allow those responsible for these violations to get away with impunity and without consequence."

Hong Kong Watch also hit out after the territory's Foreign Correspondents' Club on Monday scrapped its annual human rights awards, citing fears it could be prosecuted for crossing "new red lines.”

"This is yet another serious blow to press freedom in Hong Kong," said the campaign group's chief, Benedict Rogers, in a separate statement.

"It is not just a loss for Hong Kong, but for the cause of human rights and freedom across the whole of Asia.

"Never has being a journalist in Hong Kong been more dangerous than now," added Rogers, who has himself been threatened with prosecution under the National Security Law despite living in Britain.

The Hong Kong Watch report detailed violence against reporters by police and pro-Beijing thugs, a climate of fear in newsrooms and arrests under a wider crackdown against pro-democracy campaigners.

RTHK, a once-respected broadcaster modelled on the BBC, had become "simply a government propaganda outlet,” the report said.

Pro-Beijing media outlets had benefited under the government's crackdown, which has also seen the police redefine who qualifies as a journalist and envisages a new law against so-called "fake news,” it said.

Former RTHK journalist Steve Vines, who moved back to Britain last year after 35 years in Hong Kong, said the territory had undergone a "breathtakingly rapid destruction of freedoms."

Hong Kong's fate was "a vital reminder to the rest of the world of the dangers posed by the Communist regime as it spreads its influence in the international community,” he wrote in the report.