Pedestrians walk past a billboard for the National Security Law in Hong Kong, China, on July 15, 2020. Journalists in Hong Kong have said the national security law has caused press freedom to deteriorate. File Photo by Jerome Favre/EPA-EFE
Feb. 8 (UPI) -- The United States along with 20 other countries on Tuesday condemned the governments of Hong Kong and China for their crackdown on press freedom in the former British colony.
The statement from the Media Freedom Coalition accused the governments of attacking the freedom of the press and suppressing independent local media in Hong Kong, citing the recent raid on the offices of Stand News and the self-closure of CitizenNews.
The crackdown on the press follows Beijing's imposition of a controversial national security law on Hong Kong in the summer of 2020 that criminalizes with harsh penalties widely defined acts of secession, sedition, subversion, terrorism and working with foreign agencies to undermine the national security of China.
The law has been widely credited with degrading press freedom in Hong Kong with the city's foreign correspondents club in November saying "working conditions have deteriorated significantly" since its introduction.
The club added that there are growing concerns among reporters that the government may follow it with a "fake news" law that would further erode press freedoms.
Beijing responded to the club by calling on it to stop "sowing discord and refrain from interfering with the law-based governance" of Hong Kong in the name of press freedom.
"Targeting a very small handful of criminals for their activities that endanger national security, the national security law does not harm press freedom and any other rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people; rather, it protects their rights and freedoms in a more secure, stable and law-based environment," the foreign ministry spokesperson said at that time.
In the statement Tuesday from the United States, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and other allies, the coalition accused the law of having eroded the protected media rights and freedoms enshrined in Hong Kong's mini constitution as well as in the declaration that returned the city to Chinese rule from Britain in 1997.
The crackdown "has also caused the near-complete disappearance of local independent media outlets in Hong Kong," the statement said. "These ongoing actions further undermine confidence in Hong Kong's international reputation through the suppression of human rights, freedom of speech and free flow and exchange of opinions and information."
The statement was issued after Stand News in late December ceased operations and deleted all of its social media accounts in response to several senior staff being arrested and their offices raided.
Early last month, CitizenNews closed its doors, citing "the sea of change in society over the past two years and the deteriorating media environment."
"At the center of a brewing storm, we found ourself in a critical situation," CitizenNews said in a statement announcing its closure. "In the face of a crisis, we must ensure the safety and well-being of everyone who are on board."