Reporting under Hong Kong’s National Security Law: ‘The risk of being imprisoned hangs over me all the time’

I started working as a journalist in Hong Kong just three years ago – back when things were completely different. It feels like a lifetime ago now.

My first field assignment was to cover a talk about Hong Kong independence. It was hosted at the city’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club and for a rookie reporter, it was an eye-opening experience to meet people with such different opinions. 

Today, that talk would be illegal. Any event that touches on the idea of self-determination is now seen as encouraging secession and therefore a serious crime under Beijing’s sweeping new National Security Law.

It’s a sign of how much things have changed.

In 2019, my city was battered by a political maelstrom. The people of Hong Kong called for greater democracy, and the government refused, leading to violent clashes between police and protesters. 

It was a formative time for me as a journalist. As reporters, we braved the dangers of tear gas and rubber bullets on the streets but we were still able to freely cover sensitive issues without fear of repercussion. I never had to consider that I might be followed and monitored by strangers who may be linked to the authorities. 

But all of that has changed since the National Security Law came into force on June 30, 2020.

These days, whenever I am out reporting I am threatened by police officers and face accusations of being a “fake journalist” despite carrying a press card for an accredited international publication. 

Hanging over me at all times is the risk of being imprisoned. A few years ago I would have felt safe writing this under my real name. No longer. 

  • Mass arrests. Newspaper raids. Banned protests. Exiled activists. The Telegraph’s new podcast, Hong Kong Silenced, documents how life in the city has been turned upside down in the past year. Listen to the first and second episodes now on wherever you get your podcasts. telegraph.co.uk/hksilenced

Hong Kong Silenced podcast – all episodes

In many ways, the crackdown on journalists has been happening for a long time.

In 2002, Hong Kong was ranked 18th globally for press freedoms, according to Reporters Without Borders. Last year, it was 80th, putting it below Togo and Kyrgyzstan.

But I have been stunned by the changes that have happened to my colleagues here in the past year. 

Journalist Bao Choy was prosecuted for making false statements to access public vehicle plate records as part of an investigation into police brutality. 

Local broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong was forced to axe a 31-year-old political satire show, Headliner.

And the city’s most prominent pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily had to shut down after editors were arrested, its office was raided, and financial accounts were frozen. 

I was there standing outside on the evening the paper printed its last edition. It was an emotional goodbye to a publication I grew up reading. It had represented the voice of many Hong Kongers on occasions when the city was struggling with political downturns.

My job here has now become significantly more difficult. Most interviews related to political issues are either turned down or people ask to speak off the record. 

The end point of all of this sometimes makes me deeply depressed. I want to continue to report on what is going on here, but how can I dedicate myself to my city and my job without making my parents and friends worry about me?

A lot of people my age are now considering emigrating, arguing: “Hong Kong is not the same anymore.”

They’re right. But no matter how precarious the situation is now, I am determined to hang on and see how far we journalists are able to go before crossing Beijing’s constantly moving red lines. 

Beijing wants to silence us, but the people who love Hong Kong will never be silenced. 

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