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Freedom of Expression in Hong Kong Has Shrunk, Says Journalist

Posted by Author on May 9, 2008

Radio Free Asia, 2008-05-06-

Hong Kong people turned out in force to protest the deadly Chinese crackdown of 1989, says a Hong Kong-based journalist jailed by China for almost three years on spying charges. But Ching Cheong also says the territory’s space for dissent has shrunk dramatically.

HONG KONG—A Hong Kong-based journalist jailed by China for almost three years on spying charges says the former British colony’s freedoms have been eroded since the 1997 handover to Beijing.

“Hong Kong has made a continual contribution to progress in China for more than a century, even promoting some positive change in China,” Ching Cheong, formerly chief China correspondent for Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper, said.

“This can be ascribed to the freedom of expression in Hong Kong. However, since the handover, the space for different opinions has shrunk, or even disappeared,” he said in an interview.

“This is a potential threat to the traditional values of Hong Kong,” he added.

Ching was handed a five-year jail term by a Guangdong court in August 2006 for allegedly spying for Taiwan, which he denies. He had been held previously for some 16 months.

Tibet protest in Hong Kong

He spoke after a confrontation between Free Tibet protesters and supporters of the Chinese government during the Olympic torch relay in Hong Kong, where some spectators held large Chinese flags and others carried protest signs.

Ching said the temporary detention of Tibet protester Christina Chan, ostensibly a form of protective custody to protect her from an angry pro-China mob, was “unfortunate.”

Chan had wrapped the Tibetan snow lion flag around her body and later began waving it, drawing obscenities and angry comments from a group of Mandarin-speaking bystanders.

Several onlookers heckled Chan, shouting “What kind of Chinese are you?” and “What a shame!’ The 21-year-old Chan said, “Why can’t we just respect each other and express our views?”

Hong Kong people are outspoken

Ching said that while Hong Kong people were genuinely patriotic during the passage of the Olympic torch through China’s Special Administrative Region, which has been granted a “high degree of autonomy” and constitutional protection of its basic freedoms, he said they wouldn’t hesitate to show dissatisfaction as well.

“The same Hong Kongers will be unhesitant in voicing their discontent on the streets whenever this is a problem in China,” Ching said, citing a demonstration of more than 1 million people in the territory after the 1989 military crackdown pro-democracy protesters.

“In 2003, half a million Hong Kong people went out on the streets, rallying against the legislation in the Hong Kong Basic Law Clause 23 and expressing their anger over the limitation of various freedoms in Hong Kong after the 1997 handover,” said Ching, who has taken up his work as a journalist again but has no plans for any reporting trips to China……. (more details from Radio Free Asia: Journalist Fears for Hong Kong)

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