RFA closes Hong Kong bureau after passage of new security law

The Article 23 legislation has increased safety worries for its journalists, the news outlet’s president said.
By Matt Reed for RFA
2024.03.29
Washington
RFA closes Hong Kong bureau after passage of new security law Hong Kong’s skyline and harbor are seen from Victoria Peak, Sept. 1, 2019.
(Jae C. Hong/AP)

Radio Free Asia on Friday announced it has closed its Hong Kong bureau, saying the city’s recently enacted national security law, also known as “Article 23,” has raised safety concerns for its reporters and staff members.

RFA will no longer have full-time personnel in Hong Kong but will retain its official media registration there, the organization’s president and chief executive, Bay Fang, said in a statement.

“We recognize RFA’s frontline status – as it is among the last independent news organizations reporting on events happening in Hong Kong in Cantonese and Mandarin,” she said.

“For our audiences in Hong Kong and mainland China, who rely on RFA’s timely, uncensored journalism: Rest assured, our programming and content will continue without disruption,” Fang said.

Hong Kong was once a bastion of free media and expression in Asia, qualities that helped make it an international financial center and a regional hub for journalism.

But demonstrations in 2019 led to the passage of a national security law in 2020 that stifled dissent. Soon after, The New York Times announced it would relocate its digital news operations to Seoul. 

In 2021, the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was forced to shut down amid an investigation conducted under the 2020 law.

Sweeping new powers

Last week’s enactment of the Safeguarding National Security Ordinance, also referred to as Article 23 based on a clause in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, has intensified uncertainties among Hong Kong journalists.

It has created new offenses, increased punishment for offenders and granted the government sweeping new powers to crack down on all forms of dissent. 

It includes a reference to “external threats” and uses China’s expansive definition of “national security,” which journalists and critics say is vague. 

In February, Hong Kong security chief Chris Tang accused RFA of reporting what he described as “false” criticism that the new law would target media organizations. He called the media outlet a “foreign force” that was misleading the people of Hong Kong. 

“Actions by Hong Kong authorities, including referring to RFA as a ‘foreign force,’ raise serious questions about our ability to operate in safety with the enactment of Article 23,” Fang said in Friday’s statement.

Opened in 1996

RFA opened its Hong Kong office – its first overseas bureau – in 1996. The organization is funded by the U.S. Congress but operates as an editorially independent private news organization. Its mission is to provide news in languages and regions where authorities censor news and stymie the freedom of expression and the press.

The ranking Democratic member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Gregory Meeks, representing New York, said he was “deeply concerned” by the decision, calling RFA “a longstanding beacon of independent journalism” in Hong Kong.

“Since the passage of Hong Kong’s National Security Law in 2020, RFA has been a rare source of independent news coming out of Hong Kong despite facing unrelenting pressure and harassment,” he said in a statement. 

“The closure of RFA’s bureau in Hong Kong, after 28 years, is a stark reminder of how brazenly Beijing has extinguished Hong Kong’s autonomy.” 

RFA’s restructuring of its on-the-ground operations means that staff members will be relocated to the United States, Taiwan and elsewhere amid the closure of the physical bureau, the organization said.

“RFA will shift to using a different journalistic model reserved for closed media environments,” Fang said. “I commend RFA’s journalists and staff for making this difficult transition possible.”

Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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