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Tang defended his comments on Wednesday saying he was conveying "doubts held by many in society" about the press association.

"I believe if they openly let the public know the information, it will clear their name," Tang told reporters outside the city's Legislative Council, referring to details about who the HKJA members work for.

The media industry has seen profound changes since Beijing imposed the security law last year.

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai, a staunch critic of Beijing, is in jail and awaiting trial on national security charges. His pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily closed following police raids and the arrest of executives including its chief editor.

Scores of civic groups and opposition parties have disbanded or scaled back operations over the past year, while some of their members have been arrested and jailed.

The Professional Teachers' Union, Hong Kong's largest, disbanded this month after it was criticised by Chinese state media for "politicising" education.

The security law, imposed after months of at times violent pro-democracy protests, punishes what Beijing broadly refers to as subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism with up to life in jail.

The Hong Kong government has repeatedly said the law is only aimed at a tiny group of "troublemakers" and all law enforcement actions against individuals or groups "have nothing to do with their political stance or background".

Hong Kong's once-thriving media sector and vibrant civil society have long been features of the city that returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with a promise of wide-ranging freedoms not guaranteed on the mainland.

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