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Hong Kong denies entry to press freedom advocate


HONG KONG — A representative of Reporters Without Borders was deported from Hong Kong upon arrival Wednesday, the advocacy group said, in what it called a “new decline” in press freedom in the Chinese territory.

Aleksandra Bielakowska, an advocacy officer for Reporters Without Borders who is based in Taiwan, was detained for six hours at Hong Kong International Airport, the Paris-based group said in a statement. She was questioned and her belongings were searched three times before she was deported without explanation.

Reporters Without Borders said it was the first time any of its representatives had been denied entry or detained at the Hong Kong airport.

“We are appalled by this unacceptable treatment of our colleague, who was simply trying to do her job,” said Rebecca Vincent, director of campaigns.

The Hong Kong government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The expulsion comes weeks after Hong Kong enacted a local national security law known as Article 23, which builds on a broader national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 and targets crimes including foreign interference.

Hong Kong and Chinese officials say both laws were necessary to restore stability after anti-government protests that roiled the city for months in 2019 and sometimes turned violent.

But critics say the new law will only further erode civil liberties in Hong Kong, a former British colony that was promised its political freedoms would be preserved for 50 years when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Bielakowska was traveling to Hong Kong to meet with journalists and monitor the trial of media tycoon Jimmy Lai, founder of the now-defunct pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily. Lai, 76, is being tried on national security charges and faces possible life in prison.

Bielakowska and other Reporters Without Borders representatives had successfully entered Hong Kong twice last year, including for the start of Lai’s trial in December. A colleague she was traveling with on this trip, Asia-Pacific bureau director Cédric Alviani, had entered Hong Kong without incident but left later Wednesday.

“This ordeal demonstrates how much the Hong Kong authorities fear NGO workers and human rights defenders who seek to report on the authoritarian climate that has taken hold in the territory that was once a bastion of press freedom,” said Bielakowska, a Polish national.

Hong Kong has experienced a dramatic decline in press freedom in recent years, falling to 140th out of 180 countries and territories in Reporters Without Borders’ 2023 World Press Freedom Index, down from 70th in 2018.

In another high-profile media-related case, two senior editors from Stand News, a pro-democracy newspaper that was forcibly closed in December 2021, are accused under a colonial-era sedition law punishable by up to two years in prison. The verdict in their trial is expected April 29.

Last month, U.S.-funded media outlet Radio Free Asia said it was closing its bureau in the city, citing the newly enacted Article 23 legislation.


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