January 28, 2023

It aims, among other things, to prohibit external “political organizations or bodies from carrying out political activities in the region”.

This vague formula has been used to drill holes in Hong Kong’s fundamental legal foundations. As a result, any hint of “secession”, “subversion”, “terrorism” or “conspiracy”, if bothered enough by the central authorities, can be met with the full force of the mainland system.

In the process, Hong Kong’s legal system has effectively been consumed by Beijing’s. Ironically, it was precisely this, in the form of proposed extradition laws, that got underway the massive protests in 2019 and 2020, which led to the NSL.

Joe Leung of the Hong Kong Journalists Association says the law created a ripple effect in the city’s news media. “Media workers feared that the Hong Kong National Security Law would be used against them as news material was no longer considered privileged…and it became impossible to protect their confidential sources.

“This created a chilling effect that exacerbated self-censorship.”

Hong Kong has fallen 68 out of 180 places on the World Press Freedom Index in one year 80th to 148th between 2021 and 2022.

The index is run by Reporters Without Borders and East Asia bureau chief Cedric Alviani says, “I would say the magnitude of this decline is unprecedented.”

About the ‘red line’

“The red line” is a common topic of discussion for journalists in Hong Kong. Due to the number of rules, no one ever knows exactly where that limit is.

“It’s so blurry,” says Alviani. “Interpretation is so outrageously political, she [journalists] are forced every time they write something to consider this law.

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Lam Yin-Pong at his desk holding a statuette of Hong Kong’s “Goddess of Democracy,” based on the statue from the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.Credit:Daniel Ceng

Major liberal media such as apple daily, Stand News and Citizen news have closed, as a combination of pressure from the authorities and the need to protect workers has effectively destroyed their business model.

For Lam, a former Stand News journalist, the post-2020 environment is a maze of legal threats. His solution is to work all alone, “in case I cross the red line”: “If there are problems, [for] only me.”

An accusation is enough to get you arrested and, says Lam, “once they arrest you, you don’t get bail.

“They can freeze credits and accounts.”

Lam has been an investigative journalist in Hong Kong and China for 18 years and is used to navigating complex laws. Lam admits he doesn’t understand the NSL. “Uncertainty is the biggest problem we face as content providers right now. I don’t know if it’s a problem even talking to you.’

It’s likely no one does, and therein lies the genius of the NSL. The resources required to regulate it are largely only needed for high-profile cases like Lai’s, to send a warning. Most journalists can be left to fear and confusion.

Leong explains: “Although the atmosphere has deteriorated, media agencies and journalists still have room to report news. [But] it is foreseeable that criticism of the government will be less than before.”

The official launch of the Association of Overseas Hong Kong Media Professionals in London at Headland House, the headquarters of the UK’s National Union of Journalists, on October 31.

As independent media in Hong Kong face these varying dilemmas, exiled journalists from Hong Kong are trying to overcome them. The Association of Overseas Hong Kong Media Professionals started on October 31 in London.

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As the association says on its website, “We see it as our responsibility to use the freedoms that exist outside of Hong Kong to campaign for press freedom and to highlight the plight of those living in the Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region (HKSAR). ) stay.”

Association director and former correspondent Stephen Vines says it is also about “providing a means of community in the Hong Kong media diaspora”.

He states that “real information about what is happening in Hong Kong can now only come from outside the country”.

Hong Kong doesn’t yet have the firewalls that mainland China does, Vines says, allowing outside messages to circulate in relative freedom.

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But just two years after the introduction of the NSL, the future for media in the city looks bleak.

Lam believes that perhaps as many as 20 percent of journalists in Hong Kong try to report truthfully about the city.

To be ReNews Masthead is in Cantonese and covers a range of seemingly apolitical issues and day-to-day events. He tends not to address political issues directly, although he has reported on the current anti-lockdown protests in China.

The NSL strategy has been so effective that over time the law may render itself obsolete as reporters and even dissidents effectively shut themselves down.

“We are already moving in that direction at a very fast pace,” says Lam. “The police need only intervene and others will remain silent out of fear.”

Hong Kong is increasingly looking like a template for the transition from freedom to dictatorship. The ability for authorities to interfere and censor online media through electronic, often anonymous means makes this not only easier than before, but almost instantaneous.

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'I don't think people can believe in freedom': Lam Yin-Pong looking over Hong Kong. On the horizon you can see the Lion Rock, a symbol of the resilient spirit of the city's inhabitants.

‘I don’t think people can believe in freedom’: Lam Yin-Pong looking over Hong Kong. On the horizon you can see the Lion Rock, a symbol of the resilient spirit of the city’s inhabitants.Credit:Daniel Ceng

Lam says, “It’s very easy for them to implant that kind of mind control or fear into people, but it’s harder to get that out.

“I don’t think people can believe in freedom anymore.”

Given the speed of the transformation of Hong Kong’s media and, by extension, the dominant narratives, he says: “I wouldn’t be surprised if Hong Kong [just like] another Chinese city in two years.”