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Employees are shown in the newsroom of Apple Daily in Hong Kong. File photo: REUTERS/JESSIE PANG
Employees are shown in the newsroom of Apple Daily in Hong Kong. File photo: REUTERS/JESSIE PANG

Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) has suspended its annual Human Rights Press Awards so as not to “unintentionally” violate any laws, according to a statement from the club president on Monday.         

The cancellation of the awards, run for more than a quarter of a century and among the most prestigious in Asia, is the latest blow to media freedom following the introduction of a national security law in 2020 to bring the former British colony into line with the rest of China.

FCC president Keith Richburg, a former Washington Post journalist and head of the University of Hong Kong’s journalism school, said in the statement the awards have been suspended given “significant areas of uncertainty and we do not wish unintentionally to violate the law”. 

Richburg explained to the club’s human rights committee that the decision was made to protect its staff and members from legal risks, according to the minutes of a meeting obtained by Reuters.

The minutes spell out potential risks arising from proposed awards for Stand News, a liberal online news portal that was forced to shut in December after several of its top editors were arrested on suspicion of publishing seditious articles.

“Keith explains decision ... to suspend the HKPA [Human Rights Press Awards] due to concerns over legal risks to the club, staff, members and judges from awarding four awards and five merits to Stand News,” the club stated in an email.

The FCC board, which includes journalists from Reuters Breakingviews, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, made the decision to suspend the awards on Saturday, having already completed the judging process.

Two members of the club’s human rights committee told Reuters that eight committee members subsequently resigned.

Hong Kong was promised a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not seen in mainland China, including free speech and a free press, under a “one country, two systems” agreement in 1997 on its handover from British to Chinese rule.

Advocacy groups and some Western governments say authorities are trampling on those freedoms, with a crackdown intensifying under the national security law during which civil society groups are disbanded, democratic activists arrested or forced into exile, and media outlets shuttered.

Earlier in April, Hong Kong’s national security police arrested Allan Au, a veteran journalist and former contributing writer with Stand News, for alleged sedition.

Hong Kong authorities reject assertions that they are cracking down on freedoms.

Reuters

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