Hong Kong National Security Comes Down Hard on Rugby Fans, Apple Daily Staff

Hong Kong’s national security purge shows no signs of slowing down, two and a half years after Beijing’s National Security Law was forced through the territory’s legislature. The government’s latest legal pursuits have targeted former Apple Daily staff members and rugby fans, whose activities are apparently now considered a threat to the city’s safety. Kanis Leung from the Associated Press reported on the recent convictions in the Apple Daily case:

The staff members of Apple Daily were arrested last year during a crackdown on dissent after Beijing imposed the sweeping security law in response to the widespread anti-government protests in 2019. They were charged with conspiracy to commit collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security.

[…] Publisher Cheung Kim-hung, associated publisher Chan Pui-man, Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law, Executive Editor-in-Chief Lam Man-chung, and editorial writers Fung Wai-kong and Yeung Ching-kee, admitted they had conspired with the newspaper’s founder Jimmy Lai to call for an imposition of sanctions or blockade, or engage in other hostile activities against Hong Kong or China. [Source]

According to the prosecution, the six former staff members coordinated with Jimmy Lai to publish news or “content purporting to be news,” including 161 allegedly seditious articles meant to “sway public opinion.” Prosecutor Anthony Chau Tin-hang did not explain which parts of those articles constituted a seditious offense, and the court found it “very sensible” that such details should be kept secret until Lai’s trial. The case was heard by three handpicked national security judges, who will announce the six former staff members’ sentences at the end of Jimmy Lai’s month-long trial, set to commence on December 1. Brian Wong from the South China Morning Post pointed out that the six former staff members pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Lai in order to avoid the risk of longer sentences:

Editor-in-chief Ryan Law Wai-kwong, publisher Cheung Kim-hung, executive editor-in-chief Lam Man-chung, associate publisher Chan Pui-man and editorial writers Fung Wai-kong and Yeung Ching-kee will receive lesser penalties for their guilty pleas to a charge which is punishable by up to life imprisonment.

Some might be granted further remission, as the court heard that several of the defendants, including Cheung and Chan, would help the prosecution in seeking [Apple Daily founder Jimmy] Lai’s conviction.

[…] They faced a separate joint count of “conspiracy to print, publish, sell, offer for sale, distribute, display or reproduce seditious publication” under a colonial-era sedition law, with the alleged offence dating back to April 2019 before the national security law took effect.

[…] The sedition charge against the six former executives was dropped on condition of their guilty pleas. [Source]

National security issues also found their way into the Asia Rugby Sevens Series last week, in a match between Hong Kong and South Korea. During the opening ceremony in Incheon, South Korea, the song “Glory to Hong Kong” was played instead of the Chinese national anthem. The song is strongly associated with the 2019 pro-democracy movement and has been all but criminalized in Hong Kong. In September, a man was arrested for sedition for playing a rendition of the song on the harmonica at a public gathering to mourn Queen Elizabeth II.

While tournament organizers in Incheon apologized for the “innocent mistake” made by an intern, the Hong Kong government reacted furiously. Chief Executive John Lee called it “unacceptable,” and the police launched a criminal investigation into the incident. Some pro-Beijing lawmakers alleged “foreign collusion” and suspected it was a deliberate move to “offend Chinese people.” Legislator Junius Ho called for the disbandment of the Hong Kong rugby team over their “lack of response.” Executive Council convenor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee suggested Hong Kong could request that South Korea extradite the suspects involved. Ronnie Wong, secretary general of the Sports Federation & Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, called for host countries to be sanctioned and said he would soon release guidelines instructing athletes on how to respond to such incidents: the team captain would be responsible for stopping the situation by making a “time out” signal with his or her hands. As Almond Li from the Hong Kong Free Press reported, the police even arrested a man for sharing a video of the incident online and criticizing the government:

“The man is suspected of publishing seditious posts that could incite hatred against the central government and the Hong Kong government, incite others to use violence and incite others to insult the national flag and national anthem on different social media platforms,” police said.

[…] The suspect allegedly also shared a video of a recent South Korean Rugby Sevens game, during which the protest-related song “Glory to Hong Kong” was played as Hong Kong’s national anthem, instead of “March of the Volunteers” – the anthem the city shares with China.

The man was said to have thanked South Korea for “recognising Hong Kong’s national anthem,” according to HK01. [Source]

Maya Wang from Human Rights Watch argued that the Hong Kong government’s aggressive response to the rugby incident could constitute transnational repression:

Hong Kong’s National Security Law can be enforced against anyone for acts taking place anywhere, even by South Koreans in South Korea. But any attempt by Hong Kong authorities to arrest and prosecute people for exercising their rights to free expression outside of the city’s jurisdiction will amount to a form of transnational repression. While playing the wrong anthem at a sporting event may be a professional embarrassment or a political statement, it is not a recognizable crime. The South Korean government should publicly push back against the Hong Kong government’s efforts to redefine human rights in South Korea. [Source]

But some Hong Kong artists are successfully pushing back against the government’s tightening grip over society. On Saturday, numerous Hong Kong films and actors received awards at Taiwan’s prestigious Gold Horse Film Festival. Among the winners were actors supportive of the 2019 pro-democracy movement and films inspired by its events. Last year, the Hong-Kong-protest-themed “Revolution of Our Times” won best documentary film at the festival. While not featured at the festival, another critically-acclaimed documentary about the protests, “Hong Kong: City on Fire,” recently opened in theaters. Theodora Yu and Vic Chiang from The Washington Post reported how Hong Kong’s independent filmmakers are branching out in response to government censorship at home:

The story behind “Blue Island,” nominated this year for best documentary feature at Taiwan’s prestigious Golden Horse Awards, is the story of how independent Hong Kong filmmakers are increasingly looking to overseas markets as censorship grows at home.

[…] The movie shows “the real Hong Kong, its atmosphere and how locals as well as the diaspora face such huge changes,” explained [Director Chan Tze-woon]. A mix of documentary and drama that follows activists of different generations as they struggle to seek and maintain their freedoms, it was a featured selection in the London, Toronto and Rotterdam film festivals and will be distributed in Taiwan in December.

“I hope the younger generation of filmmakers can feel that we are not alone, that we don’t necessarily need to pursue the commercial path and go through official censorship,” Chan said. “We can pioneer and forge our own paths in pursuit of free filmmaking.” [Source]


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