A Hong Kong journalists’ group said yesterday that freedom of expression in the city had deteriorated, adding that it had become intolerant of dissent as Beijing strengthened its grip on the territory.
The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997, but retains a semi-autonomous status under the “one country, two systems” model with civil liberties including freedom of speech not enjoyed in China.
“There are now growing and disturbing signs that the one-country element is over-riding two systems,” the Hong Kong Journalists Association said in its annual freedom of expression report.
“This could have far-reaching implications for Hong Kong’s autonomy and one of its most fundamental rights — freedom of expression and press freedom,” said the group, which represents 500 journalists in the territory.
It said Beijing had “become more aggressive” in pursuing its policies toward Hong Kong, which had responded by barring visits by Chinese dissidents, while the city’s police had become less tolerant of protesters.
The group said Hong Kong journalists faced increasing restrictions in reporting, especially coverage of public protests, after a TV journalist was among more than 200 people arrested following an anti-government march on Friday.
“We are moving further and further away from an open and transparent society,” association chairwoman Mak Yin-ting (麥燕庭) told a news conference. “What we are more wary is the police have taken a tough line toward protests, where even reporters have been barred and human rights observers were pulled away from the scene.”
Daily protests are common in Hong Kong, and they are largely peaceful and allowed by the authorities, but the police have made two mass arrests in recent weeks.
Police arrested 231 people and used pepper spray to disperse demonstrators after a march on Friday by tens of thousands of people venting their frustration at government policies and soaring property prices.
Last month, they detained 53 people for illegal assembly after a massive candlelight vigil to mark the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing.
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