Hong Kong Journalist Association calls for press protections in security law draft

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24th February 2024 – (Hong Kong) Amid the contentious drafting of Hong Kong’s domestic national security legislation, the Hong Kong Journalists Association has voiced significant concerns. In a recent statement, the association implored the government to embed protections for journalistic activities that serve the public interest within the forthcoming security law, highlighting the necessity for clear evidence of harm to national security and malevolent intent before prosecuting media actions.

The association’s submission to the Security Bureau emphasized the critical role of journalism in fostering governmental transparency and good governance, firmly stating that the press should not be viewed as a national security threat. It warned of the irreversible harm that could befall press freedom if the law were to pass without these safeguards.

Elsie Leung Oi-sie, a former senior member of the Basic Law Committee, conveyed her ambivalence towards the inclusion of a public interest defence. While acknowledging its potential to provide reassurances to the public, she also expressed concern on a television programme that such a provision might inadvertently lead individuals into legal jeopardy due to potential misinterpretations.

The proposed legislation, under Article 23 of the Basic Law, delineates five new offences, including treason and foreign interference. This law aims to complement the comprehensive national security law enacted by Beijing in 2020.

The journalist group took issue with the broad terms used to define “state secrets” within the proposal, which cover numerous sectors and could obscure the boundaries of lawful reporting, potentially creating a deterrent effect on the media.

Furthermore, the association highlighted the precarious position journalists find themselves in when unable to ascertain the legality of the information provided by their sources. It called for explicit clarification on the scope of “state secrets” and the definition of “foreign interference.”

The group also expressed alarm at the potential for the expanded definition of “sedition intention” to further restrict free speech and called on the government to ensure the proposed law does not constrain media rights and responsibilities.