Hong Kong, September 19, 2002—Pending national security legislation represents what could be the biggest threat to press freedom in Hong Kong since the territory’s 1997 transfer of sovereignty to China, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said at a press conference here today.
The Hong Kong government is currently preparing national security legislation to be enacted under Article 23 of the Basic Law, the territory’s constitution, that would cover crimes including sedition, subversion, and leaking state secrets.
“The Chinese government routinely misuses charges of subversion and revealing state secrets to imprison journalists whose reporting challenges political taboos,” said CPJ’s Asia consultant, A. Lin Neumann. “If similar laws are passed in Hong Kong, the entire media industry here will be under direct threat.”
CPJ, a New Yorkbased press freedom advocacy organization, also repeated its call for Beijing to release the 36 journalists it holds in prison for so-called “crimes” related to their work. China currently imprisons more journalists than any other country in the world and has recently imposed additional restrictions on an already closely censored media in advance of the 16th Communist Party Congress meeting scheduled for November 8 in Beijing.
Journalists told CPJ that a combination of political pressures and corporate interests wields powerful influence over the media through a variety of channels, including selective restrictions on access to interviews and information, banning mainland circulation of independent Hong Kong publications, and withholding advertising from critical publications.
Crackdown in China
In China, the recent arrest of the well-known AIDS activist and Web publisher Wan Yanhai brings to 36 the total number of journalists in prison in the country. Wan’s arrest, as well as the recent restrictions on access to Internet search engines inside China, are clear examples of the government’s attempts to shutter dissent in the run-up to the Party Congress meeting.
CPJ criticized the Chinese government for continuing to use the threat of jail terms to control the media, and for failing to respond to formal requests for information about the condition of imprisoned Chinese journalists.
CPJ met with officials at the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., in June, following an invitation from the embassy to “join us in a dialogue” on press freedom issues. At that unprecedented meeting, officials agreed to ask the Ministry of Justice for further information about the jailed journalists. However, no government agency has yet to provide the details requested.
Today’s press conference marked the end of CPJ’s fact-finding mission, which was conducted by Asia research associate Sophie Beach. While most of her work was done in Hong Kong, Beach also traveled to mainland China.
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