Hong Kong bars some journalists from handover anniversary

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong authorities, citing security reasons, have barred more than 13 journalists from covering events this week marking the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China, according to the Hong Kong Journalists Association and media reports.

The journalists represent at least seven media outlets, including international news agencies Reuters and Agence France-Presse and several others from Hong Kong, the association said in a statement posted online late Tuesday.

“The authorities have made ad hoc and narrow interview arrangements at this important juncture and have put forth vague grounds for refusal, seriously undermining the freedom of the press in Hong Kong,” the statement said. It said at least 10 journalists have been barred.

The Hong Kong Economic Journal said at least three other journalists from local news outlets were informed Wednesday that their applications to cover the July 1 events were rejected.

Hong Kong police have confirmed that Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit the city for the anniversary of the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997. Xi’s visit will be his first trip outside of mainland China since the coronavirus pandemic took hold about 2 1/2 years ago. Police in Hong Kong, a special semi-autonomous region of China, have announced a raft of security measures, including road closures and a no-fly zone.

Strict requirements have been set for those attending the events. Journalists must have daily COVID-19 nucleic acid tests starting last Sunday and stay in a quarantine hotel from Wednesday.

Despite receiving initial approvals that included instructions for checking in to the quarantine hotel, some journalists received rejection notices on Wednesday while on their way to the hotel, while others were informed that they were barred from the events upon arrival, the Hong Kong Economic Journal said.

Authorities had invited media outlets to submit up to 20 applications to cover the events — which include a flag-raising ceremony and the inauguration of the new Hong Kong government — but later specified that only one journalist from each outlet could be sent to cover each of the two events.

Reuters said in a news report it submitted the names of two journalists to cover the events, and that both were rejected.

A Reuters spokesperson said the company was seeking further information on the matter.

The affected Hong Kong media outlets include the English-language South China Morning Post, the Chinese-language newspaper Ming Pao and online news outlet HK01, the journalists association said. The South China Morning Post said in a news report that one of its photographers had been rejected, with no reason given.

Ming Pao and HK01 did not immediately comment. Agence France-Presse declined to comment and a South China Morning Post spokesperson declined to comment beyond their news report.

The affected media organizations were invited to send other journalists to cover the events, but the replacements must also meet the quarantine and testing requirements, according to the journalists association.

The Information Services Department, which sent out the initial invitations to media outlets to register to cover the events, declined to provide information on how many journalists were given accreditation and would not comment on a South China Morning Post report that one of the department’s own photographers had been barred from the events.

“The government is striking a balance as far as possible between the need of media work and security requirements,” the department said in a statement. “We will not comment on the accreditation outcome of individual organizations and persons.”