“We worry about the law as a knife hanging over our head”, says Hong Kong journalist during APPG on Hong Kong webinar

During a webinar hosted today by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Hong Kong, an anonymous journalist on the front line explained “we [journalists] worry about the law as a knife hanging over our head… we feel the knife moving closer”.

Since the National Security Law was imposed onto Hong Kong in June 2020, we have seen press freedoms shrink dramatically across the city. The APPG on Hong Kong heard from three journalists, two of whom were anonymous for safety reasons, about their views and experiences on the frontline of this attack on freedom.

The webinar was attended by dozens of cross-party parliamentarians, including Alistair Carmichael MP, Tom Randall MP, Lord Alton of Liverpool and Baroness Bennett, who hosted the webinar.

Our named speaker, Michael Cox, spent years working as a journalist in Hong Kong before the imposition of the NSL. In 2020, he gave evidence as part of the APPG on Hong Kong’s inquiry into human rights abuses on the ground. Cox currently resides in Australia for safety reasons and is a columnist for a leading Hong Kong pro-democracy news outlet.

Michael Cox said: “The fact that I can show my face is by virtue of the fact that I am not in Hong Kong. This tells you a lot.

“Hong Kong has long been a safe place for journalists and for great journalism. Journalists were once protected by Hong Kong’s basic law and the one countrytwo system’ principle. However, today, the National Security Law can land you with life imprisonment. This has created an atmosphere of fear and paranoia. The law also makes self-censorship almost impossible to avoid. The stakes become very high even when contacting people for interviews. The call for action from Hongkongers may not be direct anymore. I ask you as people who enjoy the freedoms of a democratic country to ask yourselves, what would you sacrifice for your rights?

The first anonymous journalist currently residing in Hong Kong said: The situation [in Hong Kong] is going from bad to worse. We worry about the law as a knife hanging over the head of journalists. Now, we feel the knife is moving closer. It’s being used as a weapon to suppress freedom, target democrats and cripple legal society.  We feel the impact of the national security law in every aspect of life in Hong Kong. Media is naturally a target. Carrie Lam has made it clear that media is a sector that should be rectified, like the political system. Media bashing propaganda mandated by Beijing intensifies laws that control society. 

“I’ve been in the industry for three decades. This is the worst time. The speed of deterioration is out of our anticipation. There is no sign of change or that we have even seen the worst. Things will continue to deteriorate. Now, the government’s commitment [to security and to protecting its people] is questionable. Nonetheless, we still see passion among our journalists, doing all they can to defend press freedom.  

The second anonymous journalist currently residing in Hong Kong said: “I am in Hong Kong right now. Journalists are facing great uncertainty now. Officials in Hong Kong and China have made it clear that various freedoms in Hong Kong are not absolute. Since the National Security Law was enacted, we have experienced a series of blows against the media in Hong Kong. On various fronts you’ve seen the ground shift. I’ve spent time reporting in mainland China. There, many journalists have been jailed for merely picking quarrels. We must wonder when this will happen to us.”

Baroness Bennett, Co-Chair of the APPG on Hong Kong, said: “Thank you [journalist speakers] for sharing, your bravery is crucial. This paints a depressing picture but also a message of hope of people trying to do all they can to secure their freedoms. We too will do all that we can.”

The Whitehouse team are expert political consultants providing public relations and public affairs advice and political analysis to a wide range of clients, not only in the United Kingdom, but also across the member states of the European Union and beyond. For more information, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at chris.whitehouse@whitehousecomms.com.

More about our work for Hong Kong can be found here.