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US-funded Radio Free Asia closes its Hong Kong bureau over safety concerns under new security law

HONG KONG (AP) — The president of U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia said Friday its Hong Kong bureau has been closed because of safety concerns under a new national security law, deepening worries about the city’s media freedoms.

Bay Fang, the president of RFA, said in a statement that it will no longer have full-time staff in Hong Kong, although it would retain its official media registration.

“Actions by Hong Kong authorities, including referring to RFA as a ‘foreign force,’ raise serious questions about our ability to operate in safety with the enactment of Article 23,” Fang said.

RFA’s move is widely seen as a reflection of the city’s narrowing space for a free press following the enactment of the Safeguarding National Security Ordinance, locally also known as Article 23 legislation.

Hong Kong, once seen as a bastion of media freedom in Asia, has already changed drastically since Beijing imposed a similar security law in 2020 following anti-government protests in 2019.

Since the introduction of the 2020 law, two local news outlets known for critical coverage of the government, Apple Daily and Stand News, were forced to shut down after the arrest of their senior management, including Apple Daily publisher Jimmy Lai.

Hong Kong ranked 140th out of 180 countries and territories in Reporters Without Borders’ latest World Press Freedom Index.

The new home-grown security law, which was enacted through an expedited legislative process last week, has expanded the government’s power to stamp out challenges to its rule.

It targets espionage, disclosing state secrets, and “colluding with external forces” to commit illegal acts, among others. Some offenses, such as treason and insurrection, carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.