Hong Kong journalists say freedom under threat

Hong Kong journos faced increasing restrictions in reporting coverage of public protests.

Hong Kong: A Hong Kong journalists` group
warned today freedom of expression in the city had
deteriorated, saying it had become intolerant of dissent as
Beijing strengthened its grip on the territory.

The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in
1997 but retains a semi-autonomous status under the "one
country, two systems" model with civil liberties including
freedom of speech not enjoyed in mainland China.

"There are now growing, and disturbing signs, that the
one-country element is over-riding two systems," the Hong Kong
Journalists Association said in its annual freedom of
expression report.

"This could have far-reaching implications for Hong
Kong`s autonomy and one of its most fundamental rights --
freedom of expression and press freedom," said the group,
which represents some 500 journalists in the city.

It said Beijing had "become more aggressive" in pursuing
its policies towards Hong Kong, which had responded by barring
visits by mainland dissidents while the city`s police had
become less tolerant of protestors.

The group said Hong Kong journalists faced increasing
restrictions in reporting especially coverage of public
protests, after a TV journalist was among more than 200 people
arrested following an anti-government march on Friday.

"We are moving further and further away from an open and
transparent society," association chairwoman Mak Yin-ting told
a news conference.

"What we are more wary is the police have taken a tough
line towards protests, where even reporters have been barred
and human rights observers were pulled away from the scene,"
she said.

Daily protests are common in Hong Kong, and they are
largely peaceful and allowed by the authorities but the police
have made two mass arrests in recent weeks.

Police arrested 231 people and used pepper spray to
disperse demonstrators after a march Friday by tens of
thousands of people venting their frustration at government
policies and soaring property prices.

Last month, they detained 53 people for illegal assembly
after a massive candlelight vigil to mark the 1989 Tiananmen
Square crackdown in Beijing.

In January, two former leaders of the Tiananmen
pro-democracy protests were refused entry to attend the
funeral of a Hong Kong democracy icon, prompting criticism
that Hong Kong was bowing to pressure from China.


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