Police are seen following a raid on a pro-democracy activist's office in Hong Kong on January 6, 2021. Police recently issued orders to local news outlets to surrender information relating to the pro-democracy movement. (Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

Hong Kong police order media outlets to surrender information on pro-democracy candidates

Taipei, January 6, 2021 — Hong Kong authorities should cease ordering media outlets to turn over information relating to the region’s pro-democracy movement, and stop all harassment of independent outlets, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Today, the Hong Kong Police Force served four court orders to local news organizations, requiring them to surrender internal materials relating to candidates who had run in July 2020 primary elections held by pro-democracy activists and lawmakers, according to news reports.

The orders were served to the independent news websites Stand News and InMedia, the media company Next Digital, and its subsidiary newspaper Apple Daily, according to those reports, which said that the outlets have seven days to comply with the orders.

According to Stand News, the court order prohibits the outlets from disclosing the exact information requested by police.

Also today, police arrested at least 53 people involved in last year’s elections for allegedly violating the region’s new national security law, according to reports.

“The Hong Kong government is shredding what remains of its once-famous tradition of press freedom by forcing news organizations to produce information connected to the government’s subversion case against democracy proponents,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Police should withdraw the orders immediately and stop trying to use journalists to do their investigative work.”

Apple Daily editor-in-chief Ryan Law Wai-kwong said in an interview with the newspaper that media organizations simply reported on the primaries, and denied that they had violated the national security law. He said, “the intent [of the court orders] was to put pressure on the press.”

In a statement emailed to CPJ, the Hong Kong police force confirmed the arrests of 53 people for “contravention of [the] National Security Law,” but did not comment on the orders issued to media outlets.

In a press conference, senior police superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah said he could not discuss the content of the orders, and said that authorities were not seeking material related to the outlets’ journalism.

Journalists in Hong Kong have faced increasing repression and harassment since the passage of the new national security law on July 1, 2020, as CPJ has documented. On December 11, Hong Kong authorities charged Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai with foreign collusion under that law.