Quote of the Day: “We Have Never Experienced Such Blatant Efforts to Evade Scrutiny of Court Proceedings in Any Country.”

An incident on Wednesday, in which a representative for Reporters Without Borders (RSF) was denied permission to enter Hong Kong to observe the national security trial of political and media figure Jimmy Lai, is yet another illustration of the precipitous decline of media freedom in that territory. Another RSF employee was allowed to enter. The episode comes on the heels of national security legislation related to Article 23, which threatens to further curtail civil liberties and press freedoms by criminalizing routine reporting, research, and advocacy work. The legislation was fast-tracked at Beijing’s behest, with very little room for public debate. Following its passage, RFA announced it was shutting its Hong Kong bureau due to concerns about the safety of its staff, and some bookstores have decided to close rather than risk prosecution under the new law. Hong Kong currently ranks 140th among the 180 countries and territories included in RSF’s 2023 World Press Freedom Index, having plummeted from 18th place just twenty years ago. China ranks 179th out of 180.

In a statement describing her ordeal at the Hong Kong airport, RSF Asia-Pacific Bureau Advocacy Officer Aleksandra Bielakowska wrote that it “demonstrates how much the Hong Kong authorities fear NGO workers and human rights defenders who seek to report on the authoritarian climate that has taken hold in the territory that was once a bastion of press freedom.”

Today’s CDT Quote of the Day comes from RSF Director of Campaigns Rebecca Vincent, who issued the following statement following her colleague’s detention and deportation:

“We are appalled by this unacceptable treatment of our colleague, who was simply trying to do her job on behalf of Reporters Without Borders (RSF). We have never experienced such blatant efforts by authorities to evade scrutiny of court proceedings in any country, which further highlights the ludicrous nature of the case against Jimmy Lai, and the dire erosion of press freedom and the rule of law in Hong Kong. We demand an immediate explanation from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and a guarantee that our representatives can return to the territory safely to monitor the remainder of Lai’s trial, which cannot take place in darkness. The world must know what is happening in Hong Kong, which has implications for global press freedom.” [Source]

The New York Times’ David Pierson reported on RSF’s purpose in observing Lai’s trial, and on how the national security law underlies current and upcoming trials of journalists in Hong Kong:

Ms. Bielakowska, a Polish national [and Taipei-based advocacy officer for RSF], was traveling with a colleague, [RSF’s] Asia-Pacific bureau director, Cédric Alviani. Mr. Alviani was allowed to enter Hong Kong without incident but returned to Taiwan later on Monday.

The two had planned to meet with journalists and monitor the national security trial of a media executive, Jimmy Lai, an ardent government critic and the owner of the now-shuttered Apple Daily newspaper. Ms. Bielakowska visited Hong Kong last December to attend the opening of Mr. Lai’s trial.

The episode comes less than a month after Hong Kong introduced new national security laws, known collectively as Article 23 legislation, that in part target foreign interference and heighten the risks for journalists who report critically on the government.

The local legislation was enacted four years after China imposed its own national security law on Hong Kong following widespread pro-democracy protests, a measure that has stifled dissent and led to the closure of several independent media organizations.

Senior editors from one of those outlets, Stand News, are on trial for publishing what the authorities have called seditious material. A verdict is expect later this month. [Source]

In an article on Bielakowska’s expulsion, the Hong Kong Free Press noted that it was the first time an RSF staffer has been denied entry to the territory.” The South China Morning Post reported on the reaction from Lee Williamson, President of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club Hong Kong, who said, “The news is alarming. […] We are currently trying to better understand what happened and why Ms Bielakowska was denied entry to Hong Kong.” Hong Kong’s immigration department has not commented on the incident, just as it did not comment last July, when Japan Times journalist Yoshiaki Ogawa was denied entry to Hong Kong and sent back to Tokyo.


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