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Hong Kong denies entry to Reporters Without Borders staffer in latest blow to media freedoms

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A lawmaker holds a copy of the proposed Safeguarding National Security Bill at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, March 19, 2024. The United States sees Hong Kong's new national security law as a tool to potentially silence dissent both at home and abroad, but has tread carefully so far in responding, a disappointment to those fighting for democracy and freedoms in the Chinese territory. (AP Photo/Louise Delmotte, File)

HONG KONG (AP) — Reporters Without Borders said Wednesday that one of its representatives was denied entry into Hong Kong, calling it a “new decline” in the city’s press freedoms.

According to the group, its Taipei-based staffer Aleksandra Bielakowska was stopped at the airport by immigration officers. She was detained, questioned and had her belongings searched three times before she was denied entry, said the group, also known by its French acronym RSF.

“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.

Bielakowska was to meet journalists and attend a hearing at the trial of Jimmy Lai, the media tycoon and founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper who is facing national security charges.

The Immigration Department did not comment when contacted after business hours.

Rebecca Vincent, RSF’s director of campaigns, said the group had “never experienced such blatant efforts by authorities to evade scrutiny of court proceedings in any country.”

A major crackdown on dissent has taken place in Hong Kong since the massive anti-government protests in 2019. After Beijing imposed a new national security law on the city, dozens of pro-democracy activists have been arrested and charged. Also, electoral laws have been overhauled to ensure that only “patriots” loyal to Beijing can run for office.

Police have also frozen assets and raided the newsrooms of pro-democracy media outlets, eventually forcing them to cease operations. In March, Hong Kong lawmakers approved the Article 23 security bill, which includes maximum penalties of life imprisonment for offences such as treason and insurrection.

Two former Stand News editors are expected to hear a verdict in their case this month after being charged under a colonial-era sedition law, and in March, U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia said that its Hong Kong bureau has been closed because of safety concerns under the new national security law.

Once seen as a bastion of media freedom in Asia, Hong Kong has since plummeted in press freedom rankings. The semi-autonomous city currently ranks 140th out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index. In 2002, Hong Kong was ranked 18th.

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