The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong (FCC HK), press freedom watchdog, announcement they would cancel their 2022 Human Rights Press Awards (HRPA) on April 25. Eight members of the Club’s Press Freedom Committee resigned in protest at the decision.
Many foreign correspondents were shocked by the decision. Launched in 1995, the HRPA has been one of the most important platforms for celebrating and honoring human rights journalism from across Asia. The Club normally announces the winners on May 3, World Press Freedom Day.
Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) cited sources from FCC HK that the cancellation was related to the legal risks associated with delivering the awards to the now defunct Stand News. Two former senior executives of the independent media have been charged with conspiracy to publish “seditious publications” pending trial.
Stand News was forced to close its doors last December after security police raided its office. Police authorities accused the news site of publishing “seditious material” with the intention of provoking hatred towards the government and the judiciary.
A member of the FCC Told the HKFP that Stand News would receive four awards and five merits as part of this year’s award, but “some items” would pose a legal risk.
Takung Pao, Chinese state-funded media published a report earlier this year in January criticizing the HRPA 2021 for awarding the best commentary award to a Taiwanese writer Wu Rwei-ren’s article “Towards an Unfinished Revolution” (致一場未完的革命). The newspaper called Wu a Taiwan independence advocate who intended to push for Hong Kong independence and urged the Hong Kong Security Police to investigate the HRPA organizers.
In a letter to club membersFCC HK President Keith Richburg said the decision was made at the organization’s board meeting on April 23:
Over the past two years, journalists in Hong Kong have operated along new “red lines” on what is and is not allowed, but there remain significant areas of uncertainty and we do not wish unintentionally breaking the law. It is in this context that we have decided to suspend the Awards.
The letter also says that “recent developments may also necessitate changes to our [FCC HK’s] approach” in promoting freedom of the press.
While the city’s new chief executive, John Lee, has pledged to apply the ‘strictest measures’ to crack down on ‘anyone who tries to use journalistic work as a shield to engage in crimes that endanger safety national” in response to Apple Daily crackdown, FCC HK’s anticipation of legal risks is valid.
Yet, as a watchdog of press freedom, many see the choice to scrap the awards as an act of self-censorship contrary to the organization’s purpose, as freelance journalist Ilaria Maria Sala has written. on Twitter :
Gonna show what a loss Stand News is. Instead of removing rewards, say HK can’t have a free press club anymore. Dissolve. Become an unofficial press club like in mainland France. This way, @fcchk denies any solidarity with Stand News, and continues to have a drink around the bar. https://t.co/Wqe1GHVTFe
— Ilaria Maria Sala (@IlariaMariaSala) April 26, 2022
Eight members of the club’s press freedom committee resigned in protest at the decision. Shibani Mahtani, the Washington Post’s Southeast Asia and Hong Kong bureau chief, is one of the resigners. As one of the winners of the Human Rights Press Awards in 2020, Shibani Mahtani expressed regret over the decision and explained, in a Twitter threadthe importance of the annual event in Asia:
It’s an award that meant something not just to Hong Kong, but also to journalists across Asia who covered some of the region’s most significant developments last year – from the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan to the lingering plight of Uyghurs in, yes, Hong Kong.
It is also emblematic of the self-censorship that many institutions feel compelled to submit to in today’s Hong Kong, with or without their merits, and quite indicative of how national security law changed the landscape for everyone.
Mary Hui, a freelance journalist who also resigned from the press freedom committee after the HRPA was overturned Noted that FCC HK had removed its mission statement from the freedom of the press section of its website:
Final Thought: In HK’s authoritarian era, how we use words to perceive and reflect reality is key. Canceling press awards and censoring a statement about a colleague’s arrest while continuing to profess a commitment to defending freedom of the press does not reflect the reality in which we live.
— Mary Hui (@maryhui) April 25, 2022
The deleted statement retrieved via Web Archive return machine said:
The FCC’s primary mission is to promote and facilitate journalism of the highest quality and to uphold press freedom in Hong Kong and the region. In the face of unprecedented attacks on the media, never has our club’s role been more vital – or our commitment so strong. We will speak on behalf of our fellow journalists and correspondents, ensure they can operate freely and without interference, and strive to provide the best possible resources and information to the community. The Human Rights Press Awards, now in their 24th edition, are the biggest journalistic event on the Club’s calendar.