Hong Kong police detain, deport RSF rep monitoring Jimmy Lai’s national security trial

Hong Kong: RSF representative detained and deported on attempt to monitor Jimmy Lai’s national security trial. Photo: RSF

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The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has stated that Aleksandra Bielakowska, an RSF representative, was deported from Hong Kong upon arrival to monitor the landmark trial of publisher Jimmy Lai.

Lai faces potential life imprisonment on spurious national security charges.

RSF declared in a statement issued on 11 April 2024, "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, searched, and questioned for six hours at Hong Kong's international airport before being deported from the territory. She, along with RSF’s Asia-Pacific Bureau Director Cédric Alviani, was on a mission to meet journalists and monitor a hearing in Jimmy Lai's trial, the founder of independent newspaper Apple Daily, who currently faces possible life imprisonment for "endangering national security."

Rebecca Vincent, RSF’s Director of Campaigns, stated, “We are appalled by this unacceptable treatment of our colleague, who was simply trying to do her job on behalf of RSF." Vincent demanded an immediate explanation from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and a guarantee for the safe return of their representatives to monitor the remainder of Lai’s trial. She emphasized the importance of shedding light on what is happening in Hong Kong, stressing its implications for global press freedom.

RSF reported that 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.”

Bielakowska expressed, “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."

RSF emphasized that 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, monitoring the opening of Jimmy Lai’s trial without any issues.

Additionally, RSF highlighted its regular monitoring of trials worldwide as part of its work defending press freedom, from proceedings against journalists in Turkey 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.