HONG KONG — For the time in 26 years, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong suspended its Human Rights Press Awards, in the latest indication of the city’s tense political environment prompting self-censorship among institutions.
“We explored a variety of other options, but could not find a feasible way forward,” wrote Keith Richburg, president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, adding that recent developments may require “changes to the club’s approach” to continue promoting press freedom. Richburg was a former Washington Post correspondent and a current columnist for the paper.
The suspension signals looming fear and uncertainty in the city almost two years after the passage of the national security law. The security law, which criminalizes vaguely worded acts such as secession, subversion and foreign collusion, has unnerved institutions and caused even those whose mission is based on safeguarding press freedom to self-censor.
Mary Hui, reporter at Quartz, was one of eight members who resigned from the press freedom committee at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club on Monday. Hui called the club’s decision “regrettable and disappointing.”
“By canceling the awards, I think we send a rather worrying message that defending press freedom as the stated mission of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club is no longer tenable,” Hui said.
Several people involved in the organization confirmed the driving factor behind the suspension was that a handful of this year’s winners could be in breach of the security law. Winning entries included articles from Stand News, a local news outlet forced to shutter after national security police raided the newsroom in December and arrested editors and executives.
Since the law was passed a string of media outlets has closed, including Citizen News and Apple Daily.
The FCC has not further commented on its move.
Ronson Chan, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalist’s Association, said the abrupt cancellation of the awards was “regrettable but understandable,” and that the awards were a “recognition to journalists who poured their heart and soul into their reporting work.”
The announcement of the winners had been scheduled for May 3, World Press Freedom Day.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club was found in 1943 in China and relocated to Hong Kong six years later and centered its mission to uphold top-notch journalistic standards and defend press freedom in Hong Kong and across the region. The Human Rights Press Awards is one of the oldest and most prestigious journalism awards in Asia.