The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong scrapped its annual human rights press awards just days before the winners were announced, for fear of violating the city’s sweeping national security law.
The decision sparked a number of resignations from the club’s press freedom committee and public criticism from journalists and former winners, who called the decision sad and proof that she could no longer fulfill its mission of defending the press.
FCC Chairman Keith Richburg told members in an email Monday that the club is “suspending” the award pending further review.
“Over the past two years, journalists in Hong Kong have operated along new ‘red lines’ on what is and is not allowed, but there remain significant areas of uncertainty and we do not wish to inadvertently violate the law,” he said.
“It was a very difficult decision to make. We explored a variety of other options, but were unable to find a workable solution.”
The FCC board of directors held a meeting on Saturday, where the question of the suspension was raised, according to the Guardian, and some members shared the legal advice they had obtained, according to which the club and the people who linked to it would risk being the subject of a national security investigation. police if the awards took place. A majority of board members voted in favor of a suspension.
The National Security Law was imposed by Beijing in June 2020 following pro-democracy protests and criminalizes what it calls acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
Hong Kong authorities launched a massive crackdown on the city’s once-free media over the next two years. Several major titles have been closed, journalists arrested, correspondents deprived of visas and public broadcasters muzzled. A widely documented chilling effect has left remnant media fearful of persecution and sources too scared to speak out publicly.
The Guardian also understands there were lengthy discussions at Saturday’s FCC board meeting about the club’s dual roles of supporting foreign correspondents in Hong Kong and as a business that operates a venue. social in the city with more than 100 employees and a large number of non-associate journalists.
Following a meeting of the club’s press freedom committee the next day, several members announced their resignation from the committee over the decision.
Washington Post bureau chief Shibani Mahtani, a member of the freedom of the press committee for three years and also a board member, urged club members and others who have benefited from it to “look long and carefully the club they pay to belong to”.
“As a former HRPA laureate and judge, I feel nothing but the deepest regret and do not stand by this decision,” she said, adding that the award was meaningful not only for Hong Kong journalists. Kong, but also for those covering stories across the region, including in Afghanistan.
“[The suspension] is also emblematic of the self-censorship that many institutions feel compelled to submit to in today’s Hong Kong, with or without their merits, and quite indicative of how the national security law has changed the landscape for everyone,” she said.
“I have strongly recommended to the chairman of the FCC and his current board of directors to seriously rethink the role of the press freedom committee and the club as a whole. I believe that she is no longer able to fulfill its main mission: to defend and promote the press.
Some Hong Kong reporters lamented the decision as sad but unsurprising.
Atlantic contributing writer and former HRPA winner Timothy McLaughlin said he was sad and angry to see the award cancelled. McLaughlin also noted that it appears the FCC recently removed a statement of its “core mission” from the front page of its website.
Sum Lok-kei, a freelance journalist from Hong Kong who reported for the Guardian, called the decision self-censorship and “an insult to the media”. [and] journalists who are still working in Hong Kong, especially the media that officials have named [or] sent letters to before”.
In its statement, the FCC said the decision “in no way reflects the views of the FCC Board of Directors on the content of any of the entries or the work of the Independent Judges.”
“The FCC intends to continue to promote freedom of the press in Hong Kong, while recognizing that recent developments may also necessitate changes in our approach.”
The awards were to be announced on World Press Freedom Day, May 3.