Hong Kong media outlet closes

U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia cites concerns over new law

FILE - Surveillance cameras are seen as a visitor looks at Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, Monday, March 11, 2024. The president of U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia said its Hong Kong bureau has been closed because of safety concerns under a new national security law, deepening concerns about the city's media freedoms. Bay Fang, the president of RFA, said in a statement Friday March 29, 2024 that it will no longer have full-time staff in Hong Kong, although it would retain its official media registration. (AP Photo/Louise Delmotte, File)
FILE - Surveillance cameras are seen as a visitor looks at Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, Monday, March 11, 2024. The president of U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia said its Hong Kong bureau has been closed because of safety concerns under a new national security law, deepening concerns about the city's media freedoms. Bay Fang, the president of RFA, said in a statement Friday March 29, 2024 that it will no longer have full-time staff in Hong Kong, although it would retain its official media registration. (AP Photo/Louise Delmotte, File)

HONG KONG -- The president of U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia said Friday that its Hong Kong bureau has been closed because of safety concerns under a new national security law, deepening concerns about the city's media freedoms.

Bay Fang said in a statement that Radio Free Asia will no longer have full-time staff in Hong Kong, although it would retain its official media registration.

"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.

Radio Free Asia's move is widely seen as a reflection of the city's narrowing space for a free press following the enactment of the Safeguarding National Security Ordinance, locally also known as Article 23 legislation.

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed concern over Radio Free Asia's shutdown and said the new law "not only represents a significant escalation in efforts by Hong Kong and Beijing authorities to suppress free speech and expression," but "also undermines media freedom and the public's ability to obtain fact-based information."

Cédric Alviani, the Asia-Pacific bureau director for Reporters Without Borders, called the broadcaster's withdrawal "a consequence of the chilling effect applied on media outlets" by the new security law.

"We urge democracies to build up pressure on Chinese authorities so that press freedom is fully restored in the territory," Alviani said.

The U.S. State Department on Friday announced new visa restrictions on a number of unnamed Hong Kong officials "responsible for the intensifying crackdowns on rights and freedoms" in the territory, following its annual assessment under the Hong Kong Policy Act.

The State Department said the new security law could be used to suppress dissent inside Hong Kong and further Beijing's campaign to intimidate activists abroad.

The law targets espionage, disclosing state secrets, and "colluding with external forces" to commit illegal acts, among others. Some offenses, such as treason and insurrection, carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The legislation has sparked worries among many journalists over a further decline in media freedom. They fear the broadly framed law could criminalize their day-to-day work.

Radio Free Asia, funded by the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media, has recently been under the Hong Kong government's attack. In January, police issued a letter to Radio Free Asia and condemned it for quoting "false statements" by wanted activist Ted Hui that they said smeared the police force.

In February, Hong Kong's security minister, Chris Tang, said some comments quoted in reports by Radio Free Asia about the new legislation were "fake" and "false."

The Hong Kong government on Friday refused to comment on operational decisions of individual organizations. But it condemned "all scaremongering and smearing remarks" against the new law in an email response.

It said many other countries also have security laws. "To single out Hong Kong and suggest that journalists would only experience concerns when operating here but not in other countries would be grossly biased, if not outrageous," it said.

The government insisted the new law only targets an extremely small minority of people who endanger national security and that most journalists will not unwittingly violate it.

Fang said Radio Free Asia's Hong Kong bureau has operated as a private news organization since its launch in 1996 and that its editorial independence was safeguarded by a firewall endorsed by the U.S. Congress.

"This restructuring means that RFA will shift to using a different journalistic model reserved for closed media environments," she said.

But she assured Radio Free Asia's audience in Hong Kong and mainland China that its content would "continue without disruption."

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