By Jessie Pang
HONG KONG (Reuters) – The head of Hong Kong’s leading journalist group was charged on Monday with obstructing police officers, a case seen by critics as a further blow to media freedoms in the Chinese-ruled city.
Ronson Chan, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, was detained on Sept. 7 by two plainclothes officers while he was out reporting a story.
Chan, who requested the officers identify themselves before handing over his identity document, was handcuffed and arrested.
Speaking to reporters on Monday after he was formally charged with obstructing police officers at a police station, Chan maintained he had acted within his rights by asking to see the officers’ warrant cards.
He said he was charged with obstructing police officers and needed to appear in court on Thursday.
“Not an easy environment” he said, when asked whether media freedoms were deteriorating in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association is one of the last major professional groups in Hong Kong advocating fundamental rights and media freedoms, following the enactment in June 2020 of a controversial national security law by Chinese authorities.
Some Western governments have criticised the law as a tool of repression in Hong Kong, which was handed back to Chinese rule by Britain in 1997. Beijing and Hong Kong authorities say the law has brought stability after mass pro-democracy demonstrations in 2019.
The HKJA has been under pressure to disband from pro-Beijing media outlets who accuse it of being an anti-China organisation with ties to overseas groups such as the National Endowment for Democracy – claims the HKJA has denied.
In April, Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) suspended its annual Human Rights Press Awards so as not to “unintentionally” violate any laws, in what was seen as another sign of eroding media freedoms in the Asian financial hub.
Chan had previously worked for the liberal media outlet Stand News, which was raided by police last December and had its assets frozen and several staff arrested, prompting it to shut down soon afterwards.
Chan said it was not yet clear whether he would be able to leave Hong Kong as scheduled on Sept. 29 to participate in a Reuters Institute fellowship programme in Oxford, England.
Media rights advocacy group Reporters without Borders (RSF) called on the Hong Kong government to “drop all charges against Chan.
(Reporting by Jessie Pang; Editing by James Pomfret)