The IPI global network of editors, publishers, and journalists condemns the continuing attacks on press freedom in Hong Kong after veteran journalist Allan Au was arrested for sedition by national security police on April 11. Authorities cease their use of draconian laws to punish and harass the media.

Au was arrested in his home for “conspiracy to publish seditious publication”, a colonial-era ordinance that prohibits the dissemination of materials that “excites disaffection against the person of Her Majesty, or Her Heirs or Successors, or against the Government of Hong Kong”. He was detained for more than 17 hours before being released today, the Hong Kong Free Press reports.

Au is one of several journalists with the now-shuttered independent outlet Stand News to have been arrested under this 1914 ordinance, violations of which are punishable with fines and up to three years in prison. In December 2021, 200 police raided the Hong Kong office of Stand News, arresting six journalists and board members. Two senior editors, Chung Pui-kuen and Patrick Lam, have since been held in custody on similar sedition charges. Shortly after the raid in 2021, the outlet suspended its operations and removed its website and social media accounts.

Stand News is among numerous other independent or pro-democracy media outlets that have closed since authorities in Hong Kong have sought to crack down on the press along with growing dissent against Chinese rule over the past several years. Authorities have used the anti-sedition ordinance together with China’s 2020 national security law to silence independent media and to quell the mass pro-democracy protests that rocked the Chinese territory in 2019.

In August 2020, Jimmy Lai, a prominent media executive and founder of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, and journalist Wilson Li were arrested for violating the national security law. In June 2021, Apple Daily was forced to shut down after a year of intense pressure, police raids, and arrests of editors and staff.

“The arrest of Allan Au is yet another sign of the deterioration of press freedom in Hong Kong amid the territory’s wide-ranging crackdown on fundamental rights”, IPI Director of Advocacy Amy Brouillette, said. “The use of colonial-era rules from the early 1900s to punish journalists in the year 2022 shows just how far authorities are willing to go to silence journalists for the essential work they do to hold power holders accountable.”

For a detailed timeline of the attacks on press freedom in Hong Kong since 2020, see this useful Explainer published by the Hong Kong Free Press.