Press Freedom Awards in Hong Kong cancelled

April 29, 2022

Oiwan Lam on 26 April 2022 reported that Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club has canceled its Human Rights Awards for fear of “legal risks”

Image created by Oiwan Lam.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong (FCC HK), a press freedom watchdog, announced they would cancel their 2022 Human Rights Press Awards (HRPA) on April 25.  Eight members of the Club’s Press Freedom Committee have resigned in protest over the decision. 

Many foreign correspondents were shocked by the decision. Launched in 1995,  the HRPA has been one of the most important platforms to celebrate and honour human rights journalism from around Asia. The Club normally announces the winners on May 3, World Press Freedom Day.

Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) quoted sources from FCC HK that the cancellation was related to the legal risks in presenting awards to the now-defunct Stand News. Two former senior staff members of the independent news outlet have been charged with conspiring to publish “seditious publications” pending trial. 

Stand News was forced to shut down last December after security police raided its office. The police authorities accused the news site of publishing “seditious materials” with the intent to cause hatred towards the government and the judiciary. 

An FCC member told the HKFP that Stand News would receive four awards and five merits in this year’s award, but “certain items” would pose a legal risk. 

In a letter to the Club’s members, the president of FCC HK Keith Richburg said the decision was made in the organization’s board meeting on April 23:

Over the last two years, journalists in Hong Kong have been operating under new “red lines” on what is and is not permissible, but there remain significant areas of uncertainty and we do not wish unintentionally to violate the law. This is the context in which we decided to suspend the Awards.

The letter also says that “recent developments might also require changes to our [FCC HK’s] approach” in the promotion of press freedom.

As the city’s incoming Chief Executive John Lee has vowed to apply the “strictest measures” to clamp down on “anyone who tries to use journalistic work as a shield to engage in crimes endangering national security” in response to the crackdown on Apple Daily, FCC HK’s anticipation of legal risks is valid.

Yet, as a press freedom watchdog, many see the choice to ax the awards as an act of self-censorship antithetical to the organization’s purpose, as independent journalist Ilaria Maria Sala wrote on Twitter:

Eight members of the Club’s press freedom committee have resigned in protest over the decision. Shibani Mahtani, Washington Post’s Southeast Asia and Hong Kong Bureau Chief, is one of the resignees. As one of the winners of the Human Rights Press Awards in 2020, Shibani Mahtani expressed her regrets about the decision and explained, in a Twitter thread, the significance of the annual occasion in Asia: See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/01/rsfs-press-freedom-prize-2016-goes-to-the-64-tianwang-website-in-china/

For more on the real, unannounced winners: https://hongkongfp.com/2022/04/27/in-full-winners-of-the-axed-fcc-human-rights-press-awards-revealed/

see also for future editions:

https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3176537/american-university-taking-over-hong-kong-press-groups

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