Citizen News, a vocal pro-democracy website based in Hong Kong, announced its impending shutdown on Sunday, just days after Hong Kong and Chinese police forcefully raided the offices of Stand News, another pro-democracy website, and arrested seven of its current and former editors and board members for “sedition.”
Citizen News said in a statement that it would stop updating its site after January 4 and would be closed for good after that. “We all love this place, deeply. Regrettably, what was ahead of us is not just pouring rains or blowing winds, but hurricanes and tsunamis,” the statement reads.
Citizen News is the third pro-democracy news outlet to close in recent months, as the Chinese government continues its crackdown on free speech in this once semi-autonomous city, following newspaper Apple Daily and online site Stand News. Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities have targeted the once semi-autonomous city after Beijing implemented a sweeping national security law following massive pro-democracy protests in 2019. Pro-democracy activists have criticized the law, claiming that it has transformed Hong Kong from a free democratic city into a totalitarian state.
The crackdown comes six months after the CCP targeted the first Hong Kong press outlet, Apple Daily, under the national security law, arresting editors and staffers and freezing the pro-democracy newspaper’s $2.3 million in assets. Apple Daily had been a relentless critic of leaders in Hong Kong and their backers in Beijing, and its billionaire founder Jimmy Lai is currently in prison for his role in organizing a vigil for Tiananmen Square massacre victims and is set to face more charges under the national security law. As the CCP asserted complete control over Hong Kong and its citizens over the past year, Apple Daily became a top target for a shutdown. The paper had operated within what was called an “oasis of democracy” until about a year ago, when the CCP’s crackdowns on the Hong Kong region began.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association said in a statement that it is “deeply concerned that police have repeatedly arrested senior members of the media and searched the offices of news organizations containing large quantities of journalistic materials within a year.” Benedict Rogers, co-founder and CEO of the non-governmental organization Hong Kong Watch, said the arrests are “nothing short of an all-out assault on the freedom of the press in Hong Kong. When a free press guaranteed by Hong Kong’s Basic Law is labeled ‘seditious,’ it is a symbol of the speed at which this once great open international city has descended into little more than a police state,” he said.
The shutdown of Apple Daily, along with the subsequent raid of Stand News and members of its staff, were the dominoes that led to the voluntary closure of Citizen News. While Hong Kong’s Beijing approved-leader Carrie Lam defended the raids, accusing the pro-democracy outlets of “inciting other people,” the United States and other pro-democracy activists have slammed the Chinese law upon which the raids were based as “a tool to silence dissent.”
It is increasingly obvious that the CCP is bent on crushing its opposition and silencing any dissidents that they possibly can. The end of a free Hong Kong is a warning shot fired from the CCP towards the West: More crackdowns are coming. As all China-watchers know, the most prized territorial goal for the CCP is to reconquer Taiwan. The more they lock down Hong Kong, the more they can turn their attention to Taiwan.
The right to free speech is an inalienable human right, one that all men and women deserve to have and to exercise. Good governments ensure that dissidents are free to voice their opposition to the government and peacefully work to inspire and empower fellow citizens to fight for change. But the CCP is not a good government. They are profoundly evil, responsible for enslaving their almost 1.5 billion citizens under the tyranny of communism, and of course, even greater evils are being perpetrated against the Uyghur population. According to NBC News, “The United States says China is committing genocide in its treatment of the Uyghurs. That includes widespread reports by rights groups and journalists of forced sterilization and large detention camps where many Uyghurs allegedly are compelled to work in factories.”
While what the CCP is doing to Hongkongers and its own people may seem distant, freedom-loving Americans need to wake up to the real dangers we face from a rising China. Christians should pray for the underground Church, that they will thrive despite increased persecution. And we must demand that our policy-makers and leaders hold the CCP accountable for their increasing violations of human rights against its own people and its threats against others.
Unfortunately, as of January 2022, the Biden Administration has no clear plan to forcefully counter a rising China intent on global domination. Perhaps this recent crackdown on free speech will help President Biden find his voice. No matter what our problems at home, the United States must remain a beacon for freedom and human rights everywhere.