Hong Kong, Apr 25 (EFE).- The Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) in Hong Kong has canceled its 26th Human Rights Press Awards, citing concerns over the possibility of violating the law at a time when journalists in the city are operating under “red lines.”
The members-only club announced the unusual move Monday afternoon. It came less than two weeks before winners of the award were to be unveiled on May 3, which is also the World Press Freedom Day.
President Keith Richburg said the club, an institution frequented by journalists, lawyers, businessmen and diplomats in Hong Kong, made the “tough” decision after a board meeting on Saturday.
“I know this is an unusual step to take so late in the process,” Richburg wrote in a statement.
“Over the last two years, journalists in Hong Kong have been operating under new ‘red lines’ on what is and is not permissible, but there remain significant areas of uncertainty and we do not wish unintentionally to violate the law. This is the context in which we decided to suspend the Awards.”
Richburg, a former correspondent from the US and currently director of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre of the University of Hong Kong, said the FCC will continue promoting press freedom “while recognising that recent developments might also require changes to our approach.”
The annual Human Rights Press Awards, launched in 1996, is organized by the FCC, Amnesty International and the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA).
All three organizations have recently been feeling the heat with Beijing tightening its control over the semiautonomous Chinese city, in particular through a national security law it imposed on Hong Kong in June 2020. Since the law took effect, numerous journalists have been arrested.
Last October, Amnesty International closed its office in Hong Kong after having operated for four decades in the city. It said the national security law made it “effectively impossible” for human rights organizations to work freely in Hong Kong without “fear of serious reprisals from the government.”
Meanwhile, HKJA, the biggest association of journalists in Hong Kong, held an extraordinary meeting on Saturday to discuss the group’s future, including its possible disbandment. But chairman Ronson Chan said it would still operate in the “foreseeable future.”
HKJA has been under pressure from the government of late, with the secretary minister raising doubts over its political neutrality.
Currently the FCC is in talks with the government over the lease of its premises, a major issue that has a bearing on the survival of the decades-old club. The lease of the site, located in the central business district of Hong Kong, will come up for renewal in January 2023.
In 2018, FCC enraged Beijing when it invited a pro-independence activist to a lunch talk. In response to the club’s refusal to cancel the event, the Hong Kong authorities denied renewal of the visa of Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet, then vice president of the club.EFE