Latest Targets of Hong Kong Censorship Include Films, Publishers, and Pro-Transparency Social Media Pages

Over two years after the National Security Law went into effect, government censorship continues to stifle free expression in Hong Kong. Authorities have recently taken measures to conceal from the public various books, films, and social media pages deemed a threat to national security, and in some cases punish those who create them. Last week, national-security police arrested two administrators of a Facebook group that shared anonymous comments about the city’s civil service institution. Newley Purnell from The Wall Street Journal reported that a host of similar social media pages were subsequently shut down

Soon after the arrests, a Facebook page called Civil Servant Secrets that had more than 204,000 followers went offline. It displayed a message saying its content was no longer available, which typically means administrators have deleted it. Last month the page hosted a video showing a police officer who appeared to be sleeping in a break room while on duty.

[…Similar Facebook groups] included pages for sharing information from the city’s public healthcare workers and one for Hong Kong parents. Also shuttered was a page for the Chinese University of Hong Kong, called CUHK Secrets, which had more than 109,000 followers, along with pages dedicated to several other Hong Kong universities.

[…Sandra Marco Colino, law professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong] said the uncertain circumstances in which the social-media administrators were arrested, combined with the national-security law’s vagueness and severe penalties for violations, have “understandably instilled fear in the admins of social media groups sharing anonymous posts which often touched upon politically sensitive topics.” [Source]

The two administrators were civil servants arrested on charges of sedition, which holds a maximum penalty of two years in prison. Police suspected them of “publishing posts on that social media group to disseminate seditious messages that promote feelings of ill-will and enmity between different classes of the population of Hong Kong.” Two other civil servants were also arrested on sedition charges for their posts in the Facebook group. On Tuesday, the government disclosed a document vowing “more resolute” disciplinary action against civil servants. During the 2021-2022 financial year alone, the government removed 51 bureaucrats from their posts, accounting for approximately one third of all civil service dismissals over the last five years.

On Sunday, Secretary of Security Chris Tang stated that criticism of the government is allowed if it intends to make the government “perform better,” and claimed that the arrests do not suppress freedom of expression. On previous occasions, comments and complaints in these social media pages have helped to raise public awareness and demand accountability for government corruption, and have even compelled authorities to begin various investigations. Francis Lee Lap-fung, a professor at CUHK’s School of Journalism and Communications, also noted, “Many posts did not criticise the government at all and some even expressed support for a government decision.”

Meanwhile, Hong Kong police announced that they have been working with a tech company to create a 24-hour public opinion tracker that monitors online discussions and words that “smear” the police. This is part of the police force’s new public relations wing, unveiled on Monday, whose major responsibility is to “detect rumours early, and proactively provide clarifications as soon as possible.” Fiona Sun at the South China Morning Post described how the new public relations wing also aims to disseminate positive propaganda to improve the image of the police

[Assistant Commissioner of Police and new head of public relations Joe Chan Tung] said the new wing would also commit itself to “telling good stories” about the police, the city and the country, as well as highlighting the force’s professionalism to win public confidence.

He explained it would also make better use of new media and technology to help get the force’s message across.

Chan said the wing would also work to form partnerships with media organisations as well as community representatives to build better relationships.

[…] He said the wing would also carry out more activities in the community and schools, and use new technology, including augmented and virtual reality as well as elements of the metaverse to attract more participants, especially the young, in an attempt to instil values and a sense of national identity in them. [Source]

Due to national security concerns, a film was pulled from a local screening in Hong Kong this weekend. “Losing Sight of a Longed Place,” which won the Best Animated Short Film prize at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards in 2017, portrays a young gay man’s struggles in Hong Kong. The filmmakers announced in a Facebook post last week that Hong Kong’s Office for Film, Newspaper, and Article Administration (OFNAA) demanded they cut out a scene of the 2014 Umbrella Movement. Under the National Security Law, the government now possesses the legal powers to stifle any digital documentation of past protest movements. Anyone who exhibits an unauthorized film deemed contrary to national security, as stipulated under the film censorship law that was amended last year, could face a HK$1 million (US$127,419) fine and imprisonment for three years. Hillary Leung from the Hong Kong Free Press reported on the censorship of the seven-and-a-half-minute film, due to a one-second clip:

In an emailed reply sent on Monday, OFNAA ordered the film producers to delete a scene that it said had “reconstructed the illegal occupation movement.” If they did not comply, the film would not be allowed for public screening.

The shot in question – lasting less than a second – showed canopies and placards reading “Don’t forget the original intention.” The scene also had a scroll partially flipped up by the wind with a yellow umbrella and the characters “I want,” an apparent allusion to banners hung around protest camps during the 2014 movement that read “I want universal suffrage.”

[…] According to the Ground Up Film Society, the [Open University of Hong Kong, since renamed Hong Kong Metropolitan University, where the film creators were enrolled,] uploaded the short onto its YouTube channel three years ago.

But a day after the group announced it would withdraw the film from the festival, the video had been set to private with an error message reading “video unavailable.” [Source]

Censorship also continues to plague Hong Kong’s publishers. In The Guardian, Sum Lok-kei described how publishers who sold politically-sensitive books were barred from participating in a trade fair last month:

Hong Kong publishers have decried a “new form of censorship” after vendors selling books deemed politically sensitive were allegedly excluded from the industry’s traditional annual trade fair.

[… T]his year publishers that showcased books last year about the protests that swept the city in 2019 have been banned from the book fair, without explanation.

[…] “Publishers like ourselves, who put out political and so-called ‘sensitive’ books, are starting to be censored,” said [Raymond Yeung of publisher Hillway Culture], adding that some local printers have also refused to print their publications after the introduction of the national security law in June 2020.

[…] “This is not a matter of the law … there are hidden forces stopping these events and books from seeing the light of day,” he said.

“This form of censorship is scarier, because there are no rules we can follow.” [Source]


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