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A representative of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has been deported from Hong Kong on arrival to the territory to monitor the landmark trial of publisher Jimmy Lai, who faces the rest of his life behind bars on spurious national security charges. This action by the Hong Kong authorities, unprecedented for RSF, marks a new decline in the already poor press freedom climate in the territory.

On 10 April, RSF’s Taipei-based Advocacy Officer Aleksandra Bielakowska was detained for six hours, searched, and questioned at Hong Kong's international airport before being deported from the territory. She was on a mission, along with RSF’s Asia-Pacific Bureau Director Cédric Alviani, to meet journalists and monitor a hearing in the trial of Jimmy Lai, the founder of independent newspaper Apple Daily, who is currently facing possible life imprisonment for "endangering national security."

“We are appalled by this unacceptable treatment of our colleague, who was simply trying to do her job on behalf of Reporters Without Borders (RSF). We have never experienced such blatant efforts by authorities to evade scrutiny of court proceedings in any country, which further highlights the ludicrous nature of the case against Jimmy Lai, and the dire erosion of press freedom and the rule of law in Hong Kong. We demand an immediate explanation from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and a guarantee that our representatives can return to the territory safely to monitor the remainder of Lai’s trial, which cannot take place in darkness. The world must know what is happening in Hong Kong, which has implications for global press freedom," said Rebecca Vincent, RSF’s Director of Campaigns.

Bielakowska was stopped at the airport immigration office and detained for six hours. She was questioned throughout her detention, and she and her belongings were thoroughly searched three times. A very vague notice of detention was issued, providing as its only justification that her deportation from Hong Kong was “imminent and/or immediate”.

"They detained me for six hours, questioned me, and searched me and my belongings several times. After all this, I was deported under a nebulous pretext. This ordeal demonstrates how much the Hong Kong authorities fear NGO workers and human rights defenders who seek to report on the authoritarian climate that has taken hold in the territory that was once a bastion of press freedom," said Bielakowska.

This is the first time any RSF representative has been denied entry or held at the Hong Kong airport. RSF representatives successfully entered the territory in June 2023 and again in December 2023, when they monitored the opening of Jimmy Lai’s trial. On those occasions, RSF’s representatives – including Bielakowska – were able to enter the territory, hold meetings with journalists and diplomats, and monitor court proceedings without any problems. 

RSF regularly monitors trials around the world as part of its normal work defending press freedom – from proceedings against journalists in Türkiye, to the ongoing US extradition case against Julian Assange in UK courts.

Hong Kong ranks 140th out of 180 in RSF’s 2023 World Press Freedom Index, having plummeted from 18th place in two decades. China itself ranks 179th out of 180 countries and territories evaluated.


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