Hong Kong leader says she cannot accept claims that press freedom is at risk of extinction

HONG KONG, Jan 4 (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday she could not accept suggestions that press freedom in the city was facing “extinction”, days only after police raided online media and arrested seven people, including editors.

Lam was speaking at a weekly press conference as another independent online outlet, Citizen News, ceased operations amid what he described as a ‘deterioration’ of the media environment in the former British colony under Chinese rule.

“This morning I read about, due to the shutdown of online media, press freedom in Hong Kong is at risk of extinction… I simply cannot accept these kinds of allegations,” Lam said, adding that nothing is more important than the rule of law.

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Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise that many individual rights, including a free press, would be protected. But rights groups and some Western governments say freedoms have been eroded, particularly since Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong in 2020.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a news conference in Beijing, China December 22, 2021. REUTERS/Shubing Wang

The government has repeatedly denied targeting the media and restricting freedoms in the global financial hub. China says advocacy is being used to try to disrupt Hong Kong’s progress after the national security law restored stability.

Last week, officers raided the office of online publication Stand News, froze its assets and arrested seven current and former editors and former board members. Two editors were charged with sedition. Read more

Lam has hit back at foreign governments demanding the release of the seven, saying such a move would violate the rule of law in the former British colony.

The police operation against Stand News came a day after Hong Kong prosecutors brought an additional sedition charge against jailed media mogul Jimmy Lai, 74, of the now shuttered pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily. Read more

On Monday, online publication Citizen News said its decision to cease operations from Tuesday was prompted by the closure and arrests of Stand News and to ensure the safety of its staff. Read more

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Reporting by Edmond Ng and Donny Kwok, writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Edited by

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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