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Hong Kong security czar slams pro-democracy political cartoonist over funding quip

Hong Kong flag (Unsplash)
April 04, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Hong Kong security czar Chris Tang has hit out at political cartoonist Zunzi after he published a comic strip taking aim at a police request for better surveillance equipment.

In the latest in a string of official comments targeting the Zunzi comic strip, Tang said the strip had “made misleading accusations and aroused public dissatisfaction with the government,” an accusation that could fall within the purview of a draconian security law banning public criticism of the authorities.

In the cartoon strip published in the Ming Pao newspaper, two government officials discuss the implications of a recent request from the city’s police force for H.K.$5.2 billion to set up a digital media platform to collate video and images gathered by officers on phones and bodycams.

Better surveillance equipment would lead to more arrests and the need to hire more judges and build more prisons, meaning the bill would likely be closer to H.K.$20 billion, the cartoon figures conclude.

Zunzi has also taken aim at the Hong Kong government’s global talent recruitment drive, quipping that “priority will be given to applicants who are accepting of harsh governance, prompting the police force to write an angry letter to the Ming Pao, while a strip depicting political censorship was criticized by cultural officials as “wantonly smearing” the authorities.

Tang said the cartoon strip had made “misleading allegations against the government” more than once during the past six months, leading to criticism from fellow officials, according to a report from government broadcaster RTHK.

Arrests and prosecution under the national security law have followed similar public denunciations by officials or Chinese Communist Party-backed media organizations in a number of past cases, including those of three activists with Student Politicism.

In August 2021, Hong Kong’s largest teaching union announced it would disband after being denounced in Communist Party newspaper the People’s Daily.

Huang Jijun, 68, who has published work relating to the June 4, 1989 bloodshed under the pen-name Zunzi and had cartoons in every edition of the now-shuttered pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper for 26 years, has previously said he plans to remain in Hong Kong despite a citywide crackdown on public dissent under a draconian national security law imposed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party from July 1, 2020.

National security law fallout

Tang’s comments came as a report from the U.S. Congress accused the Hong Kong government of continuing to use “national security” as a pretext to arrest and prosecute anyone from the pro-democracy camp, and to crack down on dissenting opinions.

“The People’s Republic of China continues to erode Hong Kong’s judicial independence and the rule of law,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in a March 31 statement. “[The] authorities have further criminalized dissent, undermining the human rights and fundamental freedoms of people in Hong Kong and dismantling the city’s promised autonomy.”

According to the report, the Hong Kong government has persisted in its enforcement of the national security law, while also making use of a colonial-era sedition law to silence perceived critics.

It said more than 1,200 people have been detained for their political beliefs, according to media reports, many of whom remain in pre-trial detention.

“We urge [the Chinese] authorities to restore Hong Kongers their protected rights and freedoms, release those unjustly detained or imprisoned, and respect the rule of law and human rights in Hong Kong,” Blinken said.

Hong Kong justice secretary Paul Lam said the report was “nonsense.”

“Those who have actually been arrested or convicted were inciting others … to undermine social and national stability,” Lam said. “This isn’t just talk — it’s instigation: encouraging others to agree with your thinking and to change theirs, and to engage in socially destructive action. They’re not just academic discussions.”

“This statement is absolutely full of lies,” Lam said.

Crime of ‘incitement’

U.S.-based Hong Kong Democracy Council executive director Anna Kwok said the group has counted 1,415 political prisoners in Hong Kong since the national security law took effect, citing the ongoing trial of 47 former opposition politicians and democracy activists for “subversion” under the national security law after they took part in a democratic primary in the summer of 2020.

“The Hong Kong government constantly criminalizes speech and over-interprets the past speech of various people,” she said. “They twist people’s words into evidence and use it against them in court.”

Exiled former pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui said all of the arrests made under the law, and under the colonial-era sedition law, have been unjust.

“Countless people have had their passports confiscated for no reason after they assist police with their enquiries,” Hui said. “This has had a huge impact on their personal freedom”.

“The crime of incitement is definitely used to target political opinions,” he said. 

The Hong Kong Policy Act report said the authorities continue to arrest and prosecute people for peaceful criticism of the government, “including for posting and forwarding social media posts.” 

“Hong Kong authorities continued to restrict political expression in schools and universities, impose ‘national security education’ in all publicly funded institutions, and penalize teachers and academics who expressed dissenting opinions,” the report said.