This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Authorities in Hong Kong on Thursday warned that slogans and speech related to last year’s protest movement or calls for independence for the city fall within the scope of draconian security legislation imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party on June 30.
“Some people participating in illegal and violent activities … [on] July 1 displayed or possessed items bearing the words 「光復香港 時代革命」 ,” the government said in a statement referring to a popular protest slogan which translates as “Free Hong Kong! Revolution Now!”
“[This] slogan nowadays connotes “Hong Kong independence”, or separating the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) from the People’s Republic of China, altering the legal status of the HKSAR, or subverting the State power,” it said.
The government said it “strongly condemns any acts which challenge the sovereignty, unification and territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China.”
It cited the national security law, which bans actions or activities promoting “secession, subversion of state power and other [dangers to] national security.”
“The HKSAR Government calls upon members of the public not to defy the law,” it said.
The announcement came after police said they had made 10 arrests under the new law — among hundreds for public order offenses — as thousands came out onto the city’s streets on Wednesday in defiance of a protest ban.
A pro-democracy noodle restaurant said it was warned on Thursday by the police to remove its “Lennon Wall” of protest material on display because it was in breach of the new law.
Media control looms
Eastern District councillor Chui Chi-kin likened the warning, which came after someone alerted police to the protest material, to the political denunciations of China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), Chris Yeung, said the law would also likely be used to exert controls over the city’s once-freewheeling media.
“There are articles in the law that says the government will regulate, supervise media and foreign media – that seems to be a curtain-raiser to more control,” Yeung said in comments reported by government broadcaster RTHK.
“There are a lot of questions, worries that may not be answered, I think, in the near future until we know that some journalists or media organizations are in trouble under the law – being taken to the court, or ordered to produce the information or news material they collected,” he said.
Yeung also hit out at attacks on at least one journalist by a police water cannon truck during protests on Wednesday.
“Since June last year, police have been handling journalists with more use of violence and force and verbal abuse,” he said.
“Localist” political groups regarded by Beijing as pro-independence disbanded as soon as the law came into effect, with former Demosisto lawmaker Nathan Law leaving the city soon afterwards, according to media reports.
Law’s colleagues Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow were unable to follow suit, as they are under a travel ban and currently face court proceedings for their role in the protest movement.
Anita Yip, vice-president of the Hong Kong Bar Association, said there are concerns that the courts will be less willing to grant bail at all under the new regime.
“Article 42 [of the new law] is very clear that bail shall not be granted unless the judge has good reason to believe that the suspect won’t continue to break this law,” Yip told local media.
‘This is a socialist law’
Hong Kong current affairs commentator Liu Ruishao said there seems to be scant presumption of innocence under the national security system, which is now being applied to Hong Kong under Beijing’s direct supervision, and with the help of China’s feared state security police.
“When it comes to politically sensitive cases, I haven’t really seen a single case in mainland China in which innocence is presumed,” Liu said. “You are basically presumed guilty if you get as far as a court.”
Former Suzhou high-school teacher Pan Lu said such laws are a long-established part of the national security, or “stability maintenance” regime in mainland China.
“This is a socialist law, so the wording is vague, and it doesn’t have the same strict requirements as Western laws,” Pan said. “As for the more than 50 countries that have expressed support for China over the [Hong Kong] national security law, I’m pretty sure that they are basically authoritarian regimes.”
Beijing academic Wu Qiang said the law will be the death of Hong Kong’s status as an international port city.
“What with the protests and the sanctions imposed by the international community, the death of Hong Kong is already here,” Wu said. “This can only create a large number of refugees will be born, and the international community will try [to help them].”
“The only thing the international community can do is to accept and resettle and [political] refugees from Hong Kong,” he said.