Four international journalists and publishers organisations have spoken against the Hong Kong government’s proposed amendment to extradition law that would expose journalists and their sources in the city to criminal trial in mainland Chinese courts.
They are the International Federation for Journalists (IFJ), Reporters Without Border (RSF), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA).
They issued separate statements as about 400 serving and former Hong Kong journalists made a joint call for the withdrawal of the bill in a full page advertisement in Chinese newspaper Ming Pao today (June 8 2019). Their statement said there would be no press freedom without freedom from fear.
The change in law will allow Hong Kong to enter into case-by-case fugitive transfer arrangements with mainland China. It will also reduce the level of scrutiny by giving the Chief Executive of Hong Kong the power to sign off an application for extradition order to the court without consulting the city’s Legislative Council.
IFJ, the world’s largest federation of journalists unions, is concerned that journalists and whistleblowers would be put under threat when reporting on issues related to China, dealing a further blow to the already limited freedom of express that Hong Kong still enjoys. It reminded the Hong Kong government of its obligations under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights which was enacted in Hong Kong to protect the freedom of expression with its full effort.
RSF noted that while on paper the bill would exclude political crimes as well as cases where human rights at risk, many fear that Hong Kong authorities would not have the ability to reject Beijing’s requests, resulting in undue pressure on journalists.
“The Chinese regime has shown on multiple occasions that it needs no solid grounds to punish critical voices,” says Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia bureau. “If such a regulation was adopted, Beijing would no longer have to resort to abduction, and would simply be able to seize whoever they wish to silence under a false accusation.”
CPJ was unconvinced by the Hong Kong government’s argument that there would be safeguards against extradition for political purposes because extradition would take place only on court orders and recommendations from the city’s chief executive. Judicial vetting is a procedural step during which judges would not examine the underlying evidence, and that the chief executive is subject to political pressure from the Chinese government, said the New York-based organisation, citing Hong Kong journalists and lawyers.
“Judicial independence and freedom of the press have underpinned Hong Kong’s economic success for decades,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “The proposed extradition bill threatens to undermine both by introducing the standards of China’s highly politicized judicial system to the territory.”
In an open letter to the Chief Executive, SOPA said mainland China’s legal system has been used as a tool to intimidate and curtail journalistic practice and the free movement of information. The ‘Proposed Amendments’ would enable similar acts of intimidation to take place in Hong Kong, a place hitherto largely free of such damaging activity, it added.
“News, data and information have long powered Hong Kong’s world-leading business and financial services sector,”. said SOPA which represents many local, regional and international publishers. Any attack on the ability of news and information providers to operate unencumbered would likely have a negative impact on the wider business ecosystem that has long made Hong Kong a unique and successful centre for trade and commerce. ”
Both IFJ and CPJ demanded a withdrawal of the bill. RSF called on the Legislative Council to reject the bill. SOPA said the legislative process should be suspended temporarily.
The organisations and their statements on the fugitive transfer bill
The International Federation of Journalists, the world’s largest organisation of journalists, represents 600,000 media professionals from 187 trade unions and associations in more than 140 countries. Established in 1926, the IFJ is the organisation that speaks for journalists within the United Nations system and within the international trade union movement.
Based in Paris, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is an independent NGO with consultative status with the United Nations, UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF). Its 11 foreign bureau and its network of correspondents in 130 countries give RSF the ability to mobilize support, challenge governments and wield influence both on the ground and in the ministries and precincts where media and Internet standards and legislation are drafted.
CPJ is made up of about 40 experts around the world, with headquarters in New York City. When press freedom violations occur, CPJ mobilizes a network of correspondents who report and take action on behalf of those targeted.
The Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) was founded in 1982 to champion freedom of the press, promote excellence in journalism and endorse best practices for all local and regional publishing platforms in the Asia Pacific region. SOPA is a not-for-profit organization based in Hong Kong and representing international, regional and local media companies across Asia. The Society is host to the annual SOPA Awards for Editorial Excellence, which serve as the world-class benchmark for quality journalism in the region.
Hong Kong Journalists Association
8 June 2019