Hong Kong detains and deports press freedom group staffer from city

By Thomson Reuters Apr 10, 2024 | 8:56 PM

HONG KONG (Reuters) – A representative for Reporters Without Borders (RSF) was detained and deported from Hong Kong, the press freedom advocacy group said on Wednesday, describing it as a “new decline” in press freedoms in the Chinese-controlled territory.

The staffer, Aleksandra Bielakowska, was detained and questioned for six hours upon arrival in Hong Kong, the group said in a statement. Bielakowska and her belongings were searched three times according to the statement, before being put on a flight back to Taipei where she is based.

The deportation comes just weeks after Hong Kong enacted new national security laws known as Article 23, targeting crimes including foreign interference, that critics say would further erode freedoms in the city.

The legislation also potentially tightens control over foreign political bodies and organisations operating in the city, through provisions defining “external forces” and outlawing “external interference”.

Hong Kong authorities gave no immediate reply to a Reuters request for comment.

Hong Kong and Chinese authorities say the security law is necessary to plug security loopholes, and will bring stability to the city after mass pro-democracy protests in 2019.

No specific reason was given for Bielakowska’s expulsion, with only a “very vague notice of detention” issued according to RSF.

Bielakowska had been able to enter Hong Kong twice in 2023, the group added.

RSF said Bielakowska and the head of its Asia-Pacific bureau Cedric Alviani intended to meet journalists and diplomats, and monitor the ongoing national security trial of prominent China critic Jimmy Lai.

Lai, the founder of the now shuttered Apple Daily newspaper, faces possible life imprisonment including colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security.

Alviani told Reuters he wasn’t detained and questioned, but has now returned to Taiwan with Bielakowska.

“This action by the Hong Kong authorities, unprecedented for RSF, marks a new decline in the already poor press freedom climate in the territory,” RSF said in a statement.

The U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia said last month it had closed its Hong Kong bureau citing concerns over staff safety after the enactment of the new national security law.

In recent years, liberal Hong Kong media outlets including the Apple Daily newspaper, Stand News and Citizens’ Radio were forced to shut down under pressure from authorities.

RSF ranked Hong Kong 140th out of 180 in its annual global media freedom index in 2023, down from 73 in 2019.

(Reporting by James Pomfret and Hong Kong bureau; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)