Hong Kong Free Press, Website Blocked in Mainland China, Could Win Nobel Peace Prize

A six-year-old news site in Hong Kong is among more than 300 people and organizations nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, the winner of which will be announced on Friday.

Hong Kong Free Press—launched from a crowdfunding campaign in 2015—remains one of the city's last symbols of independent journalism. It has covered Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement as well as the Chinese government's crackdown on activists via the introduction of a national security law in summer 2020.

The website, which is blocked in mainland China, documents the continuing struggle to remember the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre amid an atmosphere that grows increasingly hostile and sensitive to topics involving China's past and present, including its policies toward and treatment of Uyghurs and other minority ethnic groups in northwestern Xinjiang.

This year, HKFP watched the jailing of media tycoon Jimmy Lai and the ultimate shuttering of the city's popular anti-government tabloid Apple Daily—both under the name of China's Hong Kong national security law.

Launched amid declining press freedom in the city—and to offer an alternative to the much larger South China Morning Post—HKFP describes its mission: "We aim to be the most independent and credible English-language news source in Greater China. We seek to amplify the voices of the voiceless, not the powerful and will monitor the status of Hong Kong's core values and freedoms.

"The HKFP team is fully committed to reporting the facts, without fear, favor or interference," it says on its website.

The news outlet was nominated ahead of the January 31 deadline by Norwegian parliamentarians Ola Elvestuen, Terje Breivik and Jon Gunnes. Confirming the nomination two days before the deadline, Breivik shared their nomination application, which described HKFP as "essential for ensuring that Beijing is held responsible for its overreaches in the city of Hong Kong."

"Freedom and democracy is under attack in Hong Kong," they wrote.

They added: "HKFP is committed to keeping independent media alive in Hong Kong. Freedom of the press is an integral part of creating lasting peace and fellowship both within and among nations. HKFP would therefore be a worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, especially in these trying times for freedom of speech in many parts of the world."

In a statement to Newsweek, HKFP editor-in-chief Tom Grundy said: "We are very grateful to be considered, but perceive this to be a broader nomination for all journalists who are fighting to safeguard press freedom in difficult circumstances.

"This comes during a year when free expression is increasingly under fire and media workers are at risk. We hope that the everyone will recognize the importance of the Fourth Estate as part of transparent, free and open societies, as well as their role in holding the powerful to account."

Friday's announcement will be followed by a formal ceremony in Oslo on December 10. Among the confirmed nominees, HKFP stands alongside exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Russia's Alexei Navalny—an anti-corruption activist, opposition leader and fierce critic of Vladimir Putin.

In another year dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization is again odds-on to get the nod of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which will also be considering Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, Black Lives Matter, Reporters Without Borders and Jane Goodall.

Among the unconfirmed nominations proposed by U.S. lawmakers is Hong Kong's democracy movement. Pro-Beijing commentators have cautioned the Nobel committee against awarding the prize to the activists.

When the peace prize was given to Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo in 2010, it caused a diplomatic rift between Beijing and Oslo that lasted until after his death in 2017. China described the decision as "blasphemy."

Update 10/06/21, 11:45 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include comments by Hong Kong Free Press editor-in-chief Tom Grundy.

Hong Kong Website Up For Nobel Prize
File: A protester makes a gesture during a demonstration on June 12, 2019, in Hong Kong. Large crowds of protesters gathered in central Hong Kong as the city braced for another mass rally in a show of strength against the government over a divisive plan to allow extraditions to China. Anthony Kwan/Getty Images