Hong Kong authorities have barred some local and international media from the inauguration of the new chief executive, citing pandemic restrictions and security reasons.
International and wire outlets were among those reportedly not invited to the 1 July event, which will see the formal swearing in of the former security chief John Lee, and will also mark the 25th anniversary of the British handback of Hong Kong to China.
Earlier this month the government’s information services department (ISD) invited media to apply in advance. Op die ou end, the ISD privately invited some selected broadcasters to nominate 20 reporters, and some news outlets to nominate 10, the Hong Kong Free Press berig. The outlet said it was among those not invited, alongside others including Nikkei Asia, Getty US, Asahi Shimbun, Kyodo News, Hong Kong Free Press, and Taiwan’s CTV.
The government said the number of media organisations had been restricted to ensure “appropriate interview arrangements in response to the latest epidemic situation, security requirements, venue conditions for various events”.
Hong Kong’s InMedia said on Thursday it had applied to cover the event but was told by an ISD official that “those who need invitations have already received theirs”.
The ISD deadline for applications closed at the end of Thursday.
Amid a continuing crackdown on media in the city, which in recent years has come under further Chinese control and seen swathes of freedoms eroded, excluded outlets accused the government of adding to fears about press freedom in Hong Kong.
“This week, John Lee claimed press freedom was ‘unlimited’ in Hong Kong, yet now we see an absurd, unprecedented media ban for his inauguration,” said Hong Kong Free Press editor-in-chief, Tom Grundy.
“It will serve only to reduce coverage of the celebratory events and reinforce international concerns about press freedom.”
Grundy said there was no history of any security issues with the press at such events, and the added reason of the pandemic was “absurd” considering broadcasters were sending as many as 20 personeel.
“We hope this is not a sign of things to come with John Lee, and that he will be willing to engage media beyond his ‘safe space’,” said Grundy.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association, whose leadership has been targeted by the government crackdown, noted similar past events had always been open to media registration without restriction.
“The HKJA is deeply concerned by this year’s arrangement, and is hoping to seek further information from the ISD.”
It urged the government to accept applications from media organisations that wanted to attend so they could fulfil their duty in keeping the public informed.
Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists, gesê: “barring some media outlets from freely covering such events severely undercuts the credibility of incoming Chief Executive Lee, who has repeatedly said that Hong Kong enjoys press freedom.”
The handback anniversary marks the halfway point of the 50 years Hong Kong was promised it would retain semi-autonomy under the ‘one country two systems’ policy. However the crackdown on dissent after the 2019 pro-democracy protest, including mass arrests of opposition politicians and activists, has drawn accusations that this autonomy is already gone.
Pandemic and security measures have been increased ahead of the event, which Chinese president, Xi Jinping, is rumoured to be attending. An increase police presence has been flagged, as well as stricter vaccination requirements. School students have been invited to attend a “rare and glorious task” of welcoming and farewelling delegates at the airport, Chinese state media reported. The students are required to quarantine for seven days prior.