HONG KONG — A court in Hong Kong has ruled that its radio laws curb freedom of expression and are unconstitutional amid a legal battle by a pirate radio station 10 years after the territory’s return to Communist-ruled China.
But the court suspended its final judgment, pending a possible government appeal.
Magistrate Douglas Yau said local radio laws gave Hong Kong’s leader “unfettered and unchecked” power to control who could conduct radio broadcasts, the South China Morning Post reported.
The ruling follows a two-year court fight by activists including maverick lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung to open up the airwaves for their “Citizens’ Radio” station in a symbolic case.
The activists, vociferous critics of the government, had been charged earlier with illegal broadcasting using illegal devices, and had had a formal application for a broadcasting license rejected by the government last year.
Since Hong Kong reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997, human rights groups have criticized the government for monopolizing the airwaves against the public interest, with but a handful of commercial and public radio operators allowed on air.
“It is unjustified after so many years of rapid technological development that the government has not been able … to accommodate more broadcasters into the broadcasting industry,” said Law Yuk-kai, the director of Hong Kong’s Human Rights Monitor, in a statement.
The tensions over press freedoms that have simmered in Hong Kong since 1997, amid fears that Beijing will erode the city’s liberal atmosphere, have been highlighted by the plight of its public broadcaster RTHK over the past year.
A strident government critic, RTHK now faces an uncertain fate under a broadcasting review which many fear could see it turned into a government mouthpiece.