Yesterday was the UN-declared International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, which was a chance to refocus attention on the situation of media workers in Hong Kong.
The Chinese Government, having imposed against the provisions of the Joint Declaration with the UK, and the wishes of the people of Hong Kong with the draconian National Security Law, chose to help the media attention by arresting a producer from an acclaimed programme that extensively covered a notorious incident during democracy protests last year.
Reports this morning indicated that a producer with the public broadcaster was arrested over the report on last year’s notorious Yuen Long train station attack on peaceful protesters and bystanders by alleged gangster assailants while the police stayed away.
This came just after the arrest of eight pro-democracy elected politicians over a melee of legislators that also involved pro-Beijing politicians, none of whom were arrested.
Around a UN day focusing on human rights, the contempt being displayed towards them in Hong Kong was clear. And – declaring my interest as a former journalist – it is important that we keep a strong focus on the treatment of journalists.
Our All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong inquiry report revealed the disturbing level of danger that journalists in Hong Kong face at the hands of the Hong Kong police force – and this was even before the new security law and restrictions on journalists.
This included tear gassing, intimidation tactics, abuse and physical attacks. One journalist witness described their experience with the police as being “close to torture in the sense of sitting on chests, bending of limbs, using a pepper spray at close range”.
Newly imposed accreditation rules mean the Government is now able to ban journalists who they believe do not support their agenda. Many pro-democracy journalists have already been stripped of their right to report, and high-profile activists have even been arrested as a result of their honest and fair reporting.
An enormous amount of the coverage of the pro-democracy protest movement has been captured by street journalism, which is now a criminal offence, potentially punishable with life imprisonment in Hong Kong under the newly imposed National Security Law.
This will not only impact the next generation of journalists, but also the ability of Hongkongers to record, document and amplify the abuse that they are subject to on an ongoing basis.
That makes continued reporting, and focus, from those outside the hold of the Beijing authorities particularly important.
Similarly, the UK Government has a duty to stand with Hongkongers and with the city’s journalists. That means standing up to the city’s authority figures by imposing Magnitsky-style sanctions on senior officials in Hong Kong as a matter of urgency, for their crimes against journalists, citizens, medical workers and protesters alike.
We know that Hongkongers are suffering. And we know that journalists in Hong Kong are being harassed and censored. We must speak out, and those who are in a position to do so must act to protect them all.