Hong Kong's Citizen News Becomes Third to Close Amid China's Crackdown on Dissent

As the media landscape in Hong Kong rapidly changes, a third prominent news outlet will be shutting down.

Citizen News announced on Sunday that it will cease operations on January 4. The website, which was founded in 2017 and focused on political news and analysis, clarified that it was not ordered to shut down by the Chinese government's crackdown on dissent. Rather, it said the state of journalism in Hong Kong was not sustainable.

"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 outlet said in a statement.

Citizen is the third prominent news entity to shutter in Hong Kong since Chinese authorities began cracking down on pro-democracy dissent. Apple Daily and Stand News were the other notable outlets to close, with many of their former reporters finding jobs at Citizen afterward.

The National Security Law imposed by China on Hong Kong made independent journalism increasingly more dangerous and restrictive. Many journalists and activists have been charged with dissent over their reporting.

The Society of Publishers in Asia released a statement urging that freedom of the press be upheld in Hong Kong.

"We call on the Hong Kong authorities to respect freedom of expression and the press which are vital to the success of our industry," the organization said.

Citizen News
Citizen News chief editor Daisy Li (left) and chief writer Chris Yeung attend a press conference at the company's office in Hong Kong on January 3, 2022, after the news outlet announced that it will close on January 4. Photo by Bertha Wang/AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile, new laws have changed how Hong Kongers vote for their representatives, including a requirement that any who seek office must be "patriots," effectively bringing the body under Beijing's control.

"What we understood about press freedom has changed a lot," said Chris Yeung, founder and chief writer at Citizen News.

Yeung said at a news conference on Monday that the trigger for their decision to shut down was what happened to Stand News. Last week, authorities raided Stand News and arrested seven people—including editors and former board members—for allegedly conspiring to publish seditious material. Stand News announced on the same day that it would cease to operate.

Two of Stand News' former editors who were arrested were later formally charged with sedition.

In the summer, authorities forced the closure of Apple Daily, the newspaper owned by media tycoon and democracy activist Jimmy Lai. Lai is currently in jail and was newly charged with sedition last week.

The U.S. and other Western governments have condemned the limits on media and civil freedoms that Beijing promised to uphold for 50 years following Hong Kong's 1997 handover.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam last week defended the raid on Stand News, telling reporters that "inciting other people...could not be condoned under the guise of news reporting."

The only remaining independent news media with reach in the city are Hong Kong Free Press, an English-language news outlet, and Initium, a Chinese-language news outlet which moved its headquarters to Singapore in August, but still has staff in the city.

Citizen News likened itself to a small dinghy in rough waters.

"At the center of a brewing storm, we found [ourselves] in a critical situation. In the face of a crisis, we must ensure the safety and well-being of everyone who are on board," it said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Apple Daily 2021
Newsstand employees sort through copies of the latest Apple Daily newspaper before selling them to customers in Hong Kong early on June 18, 2021. Citizen News joins Apple Daily and Stand News among the growing list of shuttered publications in Hong Kong due to crackdowns on dissent. Photo by Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images