Hong Kong welcomed a new batch of pro-Beijing lawmakers in its Legislative Council on Monday who were chosen in an election without opposition candidates, as the editors of one of the city’s last remaining pro-democracy news outlets announced its closure.
They are the latest in a series of events in the past year in which the local government has been reshaping Hong Kong, with Beijing’s backing, in an effort to stamp out dissent in a city once renowned for its freedoms of expression.
The founders of news outlet Citizen News said on Monday that although they have not been contacted by the Hong Kong national security police, the deteriorating media freedoms in the financial hub make it unclear whether their reporting violates the law. They said the news site will stop publishing on Tuesday.
“We all love this place, deeply. Regrettably, what was ahead of us is not just pouring rains or blowing winds, but hurricanes and tsunamis,” Citizen News said in a statement on Sunday, when it originally announced the closure.
Citizen News is the third news outlet to close in recent months, following pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and online site Stand News.
The outlet was founded in 2017 by a group of veteran journalists. While small, it focused on political news and analysis pieces, as well as investigations.
The space for doing those types of stories has shrunk since China’s central legislature imposed a sweeping National Security Law in Hong Kong in 2019 following massive anti-government protests. As authorities stepped up arrests of political activists, civil rights groups and unions disbanded, and some activists fled. Independent media have been one of the more prominent casualties of the ongoing crackdown.
“What we understood about press freedom has changed a lot,” said Chris Yeung, founder and chief writer at Citizen News. “What’s the line between, say, freedom and what the government has always emphasised responsibilities or obligations like upholding national security, public order, etc.”
Yeung said at a news conference on Monday that the trigger for their decision to shut down was what happened to Stand News. Last week, authorities raided Stand News and arrested seven people — including editors and former board members — for allegedly conspiring to publish seditious material. Stand News announced on the same day that it would cease to operate.
Two of Stand News’ former editors who were arrested were later formally charged with sedition.
In the summer, authorities forced the closure of Apple Daily, the newspaper owned by media tycoon and democracy activist Jimmy Lai. Lai is currently in jail and was newly charged with sedition last week.
The U.S. and other Western governments have condemned the limits on media and civil freedoms that Beijing promised to uphold for 50 years following Hong Kong’s 1997 handover from Britain.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam last week defended the raid on Stand News, telling reporters that “inciting other people … could not be condoned under the guise of news reporting.”
The only remaining pro-democracy news media in the city are Hong Kong Free Press, an English-language news outlet, and Initium, a Chinese-language news outlet which moved its headquarters to Singapore in August, but still has staff in the city.
Citizen News likened itself to a small dinghy in rough waters.
“At the centre of a brewing storm, we found (ourselves) in a critical situation. In the face of a crisis, we must ensure the safety and well-being of everyone who are on board,” it said.