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Pray for Hong Kong says human rights campaigner over loss of media freedom

by Donna Birrell

The founder of the human rights organisation, Hong Kong Watch, says it's only a matter of time before China clamps down further on democracy in the country. 

Ben Rogers was speaking to Premier as the final edition of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper sold out in Hong Kong. 

Apple Daily closed after its top editors were arrested and its assets seized after China accused it of foreign collusion.

Ben Rogers says it's a very worrying development:

"What's happened in the last few days is absolutely devastating and heart-breaking.  Apple Daily was the last remaining significant pro-democracy publication and its closure is a major blow. It symbolises the death of media freedom in Hong Kong. We've already seen censorship and control of RTHK, the public service broadcaster, so really, media freedom in Hong Kong is dead or certainly on its deathbed."

The Chinese Communist Party regime has become increasingly intolerant of dissent in Hong Kong, despite the Sino-British Joint Declaration which is valid until 2047. That is designed to protect Hong Kong's freedoms under a one-country, two-systems agreement which followed the country's handover from Britain in 1997.  

Ben Rogers says China has no regard for the treaty:

"It's in flagrant breach of that treaty. And through a succession of events in the last few years, it has removed the entire pro-democracy camp from the legislature. It has driven protests off the streets, it's arrested numerous activists, and now it's going after the press. So, it really is trying to turn Hong Kong into a city under its total control with no freedom for dissent."

Social media and the internet still function in Hong Kong, but Ben Rogers fears that China will also clampdown on this:

"That's certainly a real concern. The two remaining lifelines of information are the internet and foreign correspondents, but it's highly likely that both of those will come under greater pressure as they are in mainland China. The Great Firewall of China has not yet surrounded Hong Kong. But it may be only a matter of time, how long they can survive."

Ben Rogers says it has become more dangerous for anyone to speak out against the Chinese regime:

"The dangers for ordinary people, not just high-profile activists, are real people who say something online or to the media. One of the particular clauses of the National Security Law is the so-called crime of collusion with foreign forces. And that's very vaguely defined. So the reality is that someone just talking to an activist like me abroad, or to foreign media, or to foreign parliamentarians, could be breaching the national security law. And that can lead to prison sentences and potentially asset freezes."

He says the implications for religious freedom are serious and he urges Christians to pray for everyone in Hong Kong:

"Christians should certainly be praying for Hong Kong. And particularly, I think there is a concern that as different freedoms in Hong Kong are dismantled, sooner or later freedom of religion will be impacted. So, pray for Hong Kong, pray for the church in Hong Kong, that it would be able to withstand the dismantling of Hong Kong's freedoms, and keep up the pressure on our own governments and elected representatives to speak out for Hong Kong."

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