Hong Kong leader says press must not 'subvert' government

Media outlets in Hong Kong must not “subvert” the government, the city’s leader said Tuesday, rejecting US criticism of recent action against a pro-democracy newspaper under a powerful new security law.

Hong Kong has long hosted a vibrant international and local media scene but press freedoms have slipped dramatically in recent years. 

Last week, authorities froze the assets of the city’s largest pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, using the national security law Beijing imposed on the city in 2020.

An ongoing campaign by China to root out dissent after huge and often violent democracy protests in 2019 has deepened unease over the business hub’s future.

Two executives were charged with “collusion”, a national security crime, over what police said were articles calling for international sanctions against China and Hong Kong’s leaders. 

“It’s not a problem to criticise the Hong Kong government, but if there is an intent to organise activities to incite the subversion of the government then that is, of course, a different thing,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said when asked about the raid on Apple Daily and press freedom in the city. 

“Media friends should have the ability to distinguish between them,” she added during her weekly press conference.

Unlike mainland China, where the press is overwhelmingly state-owned and heavily censored, semi-autonomous Hong Kong has free speech protections baked into its mini-constitution.

But the new national security law has criminalised a host of political views and the action against Apple Daily has left the media wondering what views or reporting could trigger an investigation. 

Echoing other officials, Lam said the prosecution of Apple Daily was not an attack on “normal journalistic work” and that the paper was trying to undermine China’s national security with its coverage. 

When asked by a reporter what the government’s definition of normal journalistic work was, she replied: “I think you are in a better position to answer that question.”

The US was among multiple Western nations that criticised the police operation against Apple Daily, saying it undermined press freedoms as well as Hong Kong’s reputation as a safe place to do business.

Lam rejected those suggestions, specifically naming the US in her comments.

“Don’t try to accuse the Hong Kong authorities of using the national security law as a tool to suppress the media, or to stifle the freedom of expression,” she said. 

“All those accusations made by the US government, I’m afraid, are wrong.”

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