Following the official passing of China’s new national security law for Hong Kong, law enforcement efforts in the city have grown increasingly assertive as officers are granted sweeping new powers under the new legislation.
According to new implementation regulations for enforcement agencies revealed on Monday, Hong Kong police officers can now raid premises without court warrants, order internet firms to remove content and demand information from political groups operating outside of Hong Kong.
On Saturday, police officers entered District Councilor Leticia Wong’s office without a warrant – an incident that was captured on Facebook livestream. An officer was captured in the video saying that the black flag in her office that bore the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times” was an act of secession and subversion which directly violates the new law, according to a government statement from Thursday.
When Wong asked the police if they were using their powers granted by the new law to enter her office without a warrant, the officer said that they were invited in by her staff. However, her staff was quick to interject and deny those claims.
Since the law’s enactment on Wednesday, journalists and media law experts have been baffled by the “confusing” and “self-contradictory” wording of the legislation, leaving them “at a loss” when it comes to predicting boundaries set by the law.
In a phone interview with local independent news agency Hong Kong Free Press, Sharron Fast – a media law expert and professor at the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre – broke down the provisions of the new law, explaining that it was very characteristic of China’s socialist system.
In relation to provisions outlining the responsibility of the media under the new national security law, Fast said that the law’s “vagueness and broadness” were especially concerning as they made it hard to gauge what the media’s “duty” was, opening the door for them to be “over-policed” by authorities.
“We are already seeing a great deal of self-censorship, and I think it is in anticipation of how far the government will go in trying to satisfy this duty that is presently not clearly defined. It is a very broadly crafted instrument,” Fast said.
On the island, self-censorship among the media was already an issue according to a press freedom survey conducted in April 2014. The findings reported that out of 100, the general public gave press freedom in Hong Kong a rating of 49.4 (“slightly negative”), while journalists rated it at 42 (“definite negative”). Under the security law, the effect of this has only been heightened and broadened to affect both publishers and individuals.
Now, internet companies and individuals are required to prevent the circulation and delete any online material that could be potentially threatening to national security. A failure to comply or cooperate with local law enforcement could lead to fines up to HK$100,000 (US$12,902) as well as jail time.
The new hard line attitude taken by police officers in enforcing the national security law as well as the ambiguous wording of the legislation has caused the once outspoken protest movement to quiet down.
Although thousands of protesters filled the city’s arteries on July 1, when the law was first enacted, the crowd paled in comparison to the half million who went out to support the annual pro-democracy march the year before.
Protests that broke out on the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China from British colonial rule saw at least 10 people arrested on the grounds that they had violated the national security law.
Sources reported to SCMP that several of these individuals were arrested after they were found to be in possession of banners or flags that bore pro-independence slogans.
One protester was found with a banner that said “Hong Kong Independence.” What law enforcement officials had failed to notice at the time were the words “No to” written in fine print in front of those words, which could potentially create technical complications in his case.
However, the police officer said that according to the law, any action committed “with a view” or intention of succession or subversion would still constitute a criminal offense.
Another individual, a 19-year-old student, was detained for having pro-Hong Kong independence stickers on his phone case when he was intercepted by police at a protest. His family is unsure about whether he will be granted bail.
But despite attempts to quell dissent, some have transitioned to more creative, understated tactics to protest the new law.
A female protester at the July 1 demonstration held a blank piece of paper in a reference to an old USSR joke where officers detained people distributing leaflets on Red Square in Moscow, only to find that they were blank. The officer follows through with the arrest, saying “You think I don’t know what you wanted to put on them?”
“I suddenly wanted to see if this absurd joke would actually come true,” she explained in an interview with the Stand news agency.
Another business owner hung up Chinese propaganda posters from the Cultural Revolution, which included slogans such as “Revolution is not a crime, rebellion is reasonable.”
While some banked on the irony of subversive jokes or references, others turned to street art to express their objections.
The rainbow colored “Lennon Walls” made up of post-it notes bearing pro-democracy slogans that once decorated walls, tunnels and businesses have been taken down all over the city. Some have since remade their “Lennon Wall” with blank post-it notes, in a subtle act of defiance.
One wall was found last week to be spray painted with “Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves” – the first line of China’s national anthem. It has since been painted over.
However, arguably the most iconic symbol of Hong Konger’s sense of humor and perseverance was the 5-meter long banner that was hoisted above the streets on July 1 which simply read, “We really fucking love Hong Kong.”
This slogan has now replaced the others that have now been banned, showing up on social media and newspapers all over the city.
In an opinion piece published in the Hong Kong Free Press, exiled political activist Christina Chan wrote that this one sentence “perfectly articulated the one common sentiment of each Hongkonger who has ever taken to the streets, defying one of the world’s most terrifying regimes.”
“How will you be able to criminalise Hongkongers’ indestructible sense of humour?” Chan wrote.
“How will you be able to criminalise our love for Hong Kong?”
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