Hong Kong’s Citizen News to close, amid fears for staff’s safety

Independent online outlet to close on Tuesday, citing fears for its staff and an increasingly hostile media environment.

Police are seen outside the Stand News office building after six people were arrested on the charge of conspiracy to publish a seditious publication on December 29, 2021
Citizen News has announced plans to close days after some 200 police raided Stand News, another independent media outlet [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Hong Kong independent online news outlet Citizen News is to close on Tuesday after five years, in the face of what it described as a deteriorating media environment in the Chinese-ruled territory and concerns about the safety of its staff.

The announcement, made on social media on Sunday, comes less than a week after some 200 police raided the office of Stand News, another independent media outlet, accusing its senior editors of sedition.

Citizen News said it had come to its decision with a “heavy heart”, noting the outlet had been established in 2017 by veteran journalists committed to serving the public and the “greater public good” with their reporting.

“We have never forgotten our original intent,” the media group said in a statement. “Sadly, we can no longer strive to turn our beliefs into reality without fear because of the sea change in our society over the past two years and the deteriorating media environment.”

Beijing promised to respect Hong Kong’s freedoms and way of life, including free media, for at least 50 years when the territory was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

But pro-democracy activists and rights groups say freedoms have been eroded, particularly since Beijing imposed the National Security Law on the territory in June 2020 in the wake of mass democracy protests in 2019.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Citizen News founder Chris Yeung said the media was facing an “increasingly tough environment” in Hong Kong.

“Those who are being seen as critical or troublemakers, they are more vulnerable,” he said, highlighting the risk as one of the reasons for Citizen News’ closure.

The outlet’s closure comes days after the raid on Stand News in which senior editors were charged with conspiring to publish seditious materials and denied bail.

Last year, the hugely popular Apple Daily was forced to close after a national security raid on its offices. Jimmy Lai, its founder and one of Hong Kong’s most prominent supporters of democracy is in jail facing a number of charges under the law. Other senior editors also face charges.

Hong Kong authorities reject claims of a crackdown and deny targeting the media.

The security law criminalises what Beijing deems acts of “secession”, “subversion”, “terrorism”, and “foreign collusion to intervene in the city’s affairs”.

More than 100 pro-democracy supporters have been arrested under the law so far, and many others, including elected pro-democracy politicians, have fled into exile.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters