Hong Kong's next chief of staff John Lee, who was heavily involved in dismantling press freedom with his predecessor Carrie Lam. Photo: RSF

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Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has expressed deep concern over the election of John Lee, a man who has played a major role in the suppression of democracy and press freedom, as the next chief executive of the Hong Kong administration.

Lee, who "as a former secretary for security and chief secretary for administration of the Island took an active role in the dismantling of press freedom under his predecessor Carrie Lam," the worldwide press freedom watchdog said in a statement issued on Thursday, 12 May 2022.

A committee of pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong has chosen the former security secretary, who led the crackdown on democratic movements in the city, as the next chief executive. Lee secured 1,416 votes of approval from the 1,500-member election committee on Sunday, with only eight people voting against him, according to media reports.

"On 8th May 2022, after a small-circle poll in which he was the sole candidate and received full support from Beijing, Hong Kong government official Lee was elected as the chief executive of the special administrative region of China," the statement reads.

It said that "Lee, 64, will take office on July 1st – the date also marks the 25th anniversary of the former British colony’s handover to China. Lee, a former police officer, previously served as secretary for security (2017 - 2021) and chief secretary for administration (June 2021- April 2022)."

"During his time as chief secretary for administration, Lee played an active role in the dismantling of Hong Kong’s press freedom orchestrated by Chief Executive Carrie Lam following the adoption of the National Security Law by the Chinese regime two years ago and made the adoption of a local security law a priority of his upcoming term," it added.

“John Lee has been a key perpetrator of the current campaign against independent journalism in Hong Kong, and we have every reason to fear that he would only amplify the repression during his term as chief executive,” says Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia Bureau head, Cédric Alviani, who urged democracies to “increase pressure on the Beijing regime for it to end its authoritarian policies and to restore press freedom in the Mainland and in Hong Kong”.

In response to the ongoing unprecedented campaign against journalism in the city, the media watchdog has highlighted the deteriorating situations faced by journalists and news agencies and severe crackdowns on journalists and media agencies under the heavy hand of the newly elected head of state.

"In 2021, in the capacity of secretary for security, Lee froze the assets of Apple Daily, forcing the independent media outlet to close, and oversaw a 200-police officer raid on independent media Stand News headquarters and the arrest of its team members," the RSF said.

"During the five-year term of Lee’s predecessor Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong government has, especially in 2020 and 2021, led an unprecedented campaign against independent journalism that resulted in the shut down of two independent media, Apple Daily and Stand News, and the prosecution of at least a two dozen journalists and press freedom defenders, including Apple Daily founder and 2020 RSF Press Freedom Prize laureate Jimmy Lai," the report adds.

"In a report titled The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China, published in December 2021, RSF revealed the system of censorship and information control established by the Chinese regime and the global threat it poses to press freedom and democracy," the media watchdog pointed out.

The statement concluded that "Hong Kong, once a bastion of press freedom, has plummeted from 80th place in 2021 to 148th place in the 2022 RSF World Press Freedom Index, marking the index’s sharpest drop of the year".