Hong Kong: Jimmy Lai's Apple Daily and other democrat media under attack

The police chief accuses them of publishing "fake news". The Hong Kong executive wants to pass press control law. Press freedom index: the city is 80th in the world. State newspapers are calling for the closure of non-aligned publications. Wen Jiabao's dream of "justice" is shattered.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - The anti-establishment Apple Daily is increasingly under the lens of pro-Beijing authorities. Yesterday, during a television broadcast, the chief of the city police defended the executive's proposal to pass a law against "fake news". Chris Tang's statements followed criticism of democracy activits and media mogul Jimmy Lai’s Apple Daily newspaper which he accuses of “dividing" Hong Kongers and "inciting hatred" among them.

Tang says the Apple Daily published a photo on April 16 with the intent to show law enforcement in a bad light. It portrays elementary school children wielding toy guns at the police academy. The incident took place on April 15, a day dedicated to national security education. He stressed that anyone who breaks the national security law by publishing fake news will come under investigation.

Several observers expressed reservations about the adoption of an information control law, seen more as a tool to limit the freedom of the media. The main question is on what basis the government will determine whether a report is false or not.

The entry into force of the National Security Act has already reduced the room for manoeuvre for the press. In its annual index on freedom of information, Reporters Without Borders ranks Hong Kong 80th out of 180 countries and regions: China ranks 177th, followed only by Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea. Beijing's censorship is so pervasive that even a recent article by former premier Wen Jiabao about his mother has been "harmonized", and in some cases even banned from the web.

After Lai’s arrest for violating national security, followed by two convictions for participating in anti-government demonstrations in 2019, many analysts expect Carrie Lam’s executive to step in to shut down Apple Daily.

The state media are already setting the stage. In a full-page article on April 19, Ta Kung Pao accused Apple Daily and other pro-democracy "tabloid" outlets of producing false news, confusing the public and seriously damaging the credibility of the press. An editorial published by the same government newspaper calls for Apple Daily to be outlawed in order to foment "violence" and invoke the independence of the former British colony.

The clampdown on the media is far-reaching. It has also hit public television RTHK, in the past the most credible voice of the city's information, winner of numerous international awards. The Hong Kong Journalist Association has repeatedly expressed concern over the relentlessness against independent media.

Yesterday, its president Chris Yeung told the Hong Kong Free Press that Tang's comments add to fears that the national security law will be used "as a weapon" to silence reporters. A scenario far removed from that of "equity and justice" imagined by Wen Jiabao for China.