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Radio Free Asia closes its Hong Kong operation over safety concerns for its staff

A view of the Hong Kong skyline is pictured before the lights were turned off to mark the Earth Hour environmental campaign on March 25, 2023.
Bertha Wang
/
AFP via Getty Images
A view of the Hong Kong skyline is pictured before the lights were turned off to mark the Earth Hour environmental campaign on March 25, 2023.

U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia is closing its Hong Kong operation out of concern for the safety of its staff and reporters, a move that comes after Hong Kong enacted a tough new national security law known locally as Article 23.

Radio Free Asia President Bay Fang said in a statement Friday that the outlet's programming and content will continue without disruption.

But, Fang said, actions by Hong Kong authorities, including referring to RFA as a "foreign force," raise serious questions about its ability to operate in safety following the enactment of Article 23.

The city's Beijing-backed legislature passed Article 23 legislation earlier this month and comes atop an already existing national security law that the central government imposed on Hong Kong in 2020. Article 23 refers to the part of Hong Kong's post-handover constitution, the Basic Law, that requires the territory to enact national security legislation.

Hong Kong's most prominent pro-Democracy paper, Apple Daily, shut down in June 2021 after its accounts were frozen and its publisher, Jimmy Lai, arrested. The last pro-Democracy paper, Stand News, closed in December 2021 after it was raided and its leadership arrested.

The new law adds to the government's arsenal, with a broad definition of state secrets and language targeting external forces.

RFA is funded by the U.S. Congress but it says it operates with editorial independence. It's been in Hong Kong since 1996.

U.S. imposes visa bans on Hong Kong officials

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department announced Friday it was imposing visa bans on some officials from Hong Kong because of the crackdown on freedoms.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said while China promised a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong, Beijing has taken a number of steps in the past year to crack down on rights and freedoms in the territory.

That includes Article 23, which Blinken said could be used to eliminate dissent inside Hong Kong and used against critics abroad, as part of what he calls China's transnational repression.

In response, Blinken said the U.S. is imposing new visa restrictions on "multiple" Hong Kong officials, but the statement did not name them or say how many would be affected by this move.

A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., blasted the U.S. after news of the State Department's annual review was made public, saying the U.S. "disregards facts, makes irresponsible remarks about Hong Kong affairs, and levels groundless accusations."

He called on the U.S. to "immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and other internal affairs of China," arguing the new national security law in Hong Kong strikes a balance and ensures rights, freedoms and economic growth.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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John Ruwitch
John Ruwitch is a correspondent with NPR's international desk. He covers Chinese affairs.
Michele Kelemen
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.