Hong Kong’s Citizen News to close citing fears for staff safety

Independent online news portal to cease operations amid ‘worsening environment for media’ in city

The Hong Kong independent news outlet Citizen News has said it will cease operations from Tuesday in the face of what it described as a deteriorating media environment in the Chinese-ruled city and to ensure the safety of its staff.

“Regrettably, the rapid changes in society and worsening environment for media make us unable to achieve our goal fearlessly. Amid this crisis, we have to first make sure everyone on the boat is safe,” Citizen News, which was established in 2017, said in a statement.

At a press conference on Monday, Citizen News chief editor Daisy Li said the environment had changed, and she didn’t know what “safe” news was any more.

“If I am no longer confident enough to guide and lead my reporters, I must be responsible,” she said.

The decision to close Citizen News was triggered by the early morning police raid of Hong Kong’s Stand News last week, Chris Yeung, chief writer at Citizen News and former president of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, told reporters on Monday.

“We could not rule out that … we might be exposed to some risks,” Yeung said.

“Reporting fearlessly means we aren’t afraid of offending the political elite, we criticise the authorities when their policies aren’t right, we don’t shy from covering corporations due to business pressure,” he said, according to local media. “But it doesn’t mean we should have to sacrifice our freedom as a price.”

Last week hundreds of police raided the Stand News newsroom, and arrested seven current and former employees, including popstar activist Denise Ho. Two former senior editors of the outlet were charged with conspiring to publish seditious materials and denied bail. The UN and media watchdogs CPJ and RSF condemned the crackdown as an attack on press freedom.

“The government is abusing a draconian colonial law that has not been used for more than FIVE decades to prosecute journalists,” said exiled activist and former politician, Nathan Law.

It followed last year’s enforced closure of Apple Daily and the arrest of several journalists and executives last year, and a government-led overhaul of the operations of public broadcaster RTHK.

Pro-democracy activists and rights groups say freedoms promised when Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, including freedom of the press, have been increasingly eroded since Beijing imposed a national security law in 2020.

Hong Kong authorities have repeatedly rejected accusations they are eroding rights and freedoms, and the city’s government denies targeting the media.

In an interview with China News Agency on Monday, security secretary Chris Tang lauded his bureau’s arrests of “anti-China agitators”, singling out the “cessation” of Apple Daily as the most impressive, the Standard reported.

In its description on Facebook, Citizen News says it has no party affiliation and aims to promote Hong Kong’s core values, such as those of freedom, openness, diversity and inclusion.

In a farewell message of thanks to its readers, the outlet said it had launched hoping “to serve the public and greater public good”.

“We may not be the fastest or the most productive outlets in town but our team, with veterans and young journalists, stand united to publish truthful news reporting with depth,” it said.

“We all love this place deeply. Regrettably, what was ahead of us is not just pouring rains or blowing winds, but hurricanes and tsunamis.”

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said it was deeply saddened by the closures of the two outlets, and that the impact the crackdown on press would have on Hong Kong’s reputation was hard to describe.

• This article was amended on 3 January 2022 to clarify details about the raid on the Stand News newsroom. Denise Ho was not one of the two former senior editors charged as stated in an earlier version.


Helen Davidson with agencies

The GuardianTramp

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