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Free expression deteriorating because of China's influence, says HKJA

Freedom of expression in Hong Kong continues to deteriorate because Beijing has been taking a "more aggressive" role in its policy toward the region, says the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) in a new report.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with a high degree of autonomy under the "one country, two systems" model, allowing it to retain civil liberties - including freedom of expression - not enjoyed in mainland China.

"There are now growing and disturbing signs that the 'one-country' element is overriding 'two systems'," HKJA said in its annual freedom of expression report. "This could have far-reaching implications for Hong Kong's autonomy and one of its most fundamental rights - freedom of expression and press freedom," HKJA added.

According to "Two Systems Compromised: Free Expression Under Threat in Hong Kong", Hong Kong is kowtowing to China's wishes, resulting in the region barring visits by mainland dissidents, such as 1989 student leader Wang Dan. Meanwhile, the country's police have become less tolerant of protesters.

Plus, says HKJA, Hong Kong journalists have faced growing restrictions in reporting, especially in coverage of public protests. Just last week, a TV journalist was among more than 200 people arrested at an anti-government march, reports AFP.

This had led to problems of self-censorship, with journalists unwilling to cricitise Beijing. A University of Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme survey released in April 2011 found that 54 percent of respondents believed that the media practised self-censorship - a record figure since the 1997 handover, says HKJA.

HKJA is looking toward the new administration, due to be chosen in March 2012, to take a "more positive approach" to free expression issues, such as enacting a freedom of information law, and to resist pressure to bring in national security legislation.

The group is also calling for Radio Television Hong Kong, currently a government department, to be made independent.

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