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Press Freedom Erodes Further as Radio Free Asia Shuts Down Hong Kong Bureau Amid National Security Law Concerns

ANM Desk

In response to escalating concerns over staff safety following the implementation of the new local national security law known as Article 23, Radio Free Asia (RFA) has announced the closure of its bureau in Hong Kong. The U.S.-funded media outlet, which has been operating in the Chinese territory since 1996, cited the actions of Hong Kong authorities and the enactment of Article 23 as significant factors in its decision.

Bay Fang, President and CEO of Radio Free Asia, expressed serious reservations about the ability to operate safely in Hong Kong under the new law. Fang stated, “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.”

While RFA will maintain its official media registration in Hong Kong, the closure of its physical bureau means the withdrawal of full-time employees from the city. The exact number of affected employees and potential relocation plans remain unclear.

The Safeguarding National Security Ordinance, commonly known as the Article 23 law, was unanimously passed by Hong Kong’s legislature and enacted on March 23. Aimed at addressing crimes such as treason, sedition, state secrets, and external interference, the law imposes severe penalties, including up to life imprisonment.

Both the Hong Kong and Chinese governments assert that the national security laws are necessary to restore stability following the 2019 pro-democracy protests. However, critics argue that the laws contribute to the erosion of civil liberties in Hong Kong, which reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 after being a British colony.

The closure of RFA’s bureau underscores the growing concerns over press freedom in Hong Kong. The United States has strongly criticized the Article 23 law, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken announcing new visa restrictions on multiple Hong Kong officials in response to the crackdown on dissent.

Hong Kong’s press freedom has seen a sharp decline in recent years, with Reporters Without Borders ranking the territory 140th out of 180 countries and territories in its 2023 World Press Freedom Index, compared to 70th in 2018. The closure of pro-democracy news outlets like Apple Daily and Stand News, along with high-profile trials of media figures such as Jimmy Lai, further highlight the challenges facing press freedom in the city.

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