Hong Kong police have cautioned pro-democracy politicians against displaying or uttering a popular protest slogan the government labelled “secessionist,” following the enactment of the Beijing-imposed national security law.

The government released a statement on Thursday saying “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times” connoted independence from China and state subversion. On the same day, around 20 police officers surrounded a political group Tin Shui Wai Connection street stall in Kwai Fong and asked them to remove any banners containing the phrase.

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Photo: Tin Shui Wai Connection/Facebook screenshot.

Group members, Lam Chun and Ng Kin-wai – both candidates in the pro-democracy camp’s primary legislative elections – told reporters police had asked their volunteers to sign a form admitting to having hung such banners.

Lam said no publicity materials were confiscated and no one was arrested as police only gave a verbal warning: “‘Hong Kong independence’ has always been a forbidden phrase. We were clear on this bottom line. But now, even ‘Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times’ is banned. The government has interpreted the law. But the courts are supposed to hand down the judgement. [The government] has a biased understanding of the slogan.”

The group chanted the slogan several times before answering reporters’ questions.

Police also gave a warning to another primary election candidate, Wong Ji-yuet. The activist wrote on Facebook that several officers told her that some of her words were “sensitive.”

She asked them to clarify which phrases they were referring to and whether they had any specific requests. The officer did not respond and instead told her to keep her voice down, according to footage she shared online.

Police enter district councillor’s office

On Saturday afternoon, police entered Sha Tin District Councillor Leticia Wong’s office as it opened, according to her Facebook live-stream. An officer was filmed saying the black flag in her office – containing the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times” – intended to secede from and subvert the state.

The district councillor later asked the officer if she was using her power under the national security law to enter her office without a warrant. The officer replied saying Wong’s staff had invited the police in – a claim which they denied.

On Thursday – a day before the enactment of the law – Wong shared her old written reply to an electoral officer who had requested her to elaborate on the meaning of the slogan ahead of the district councils elections last November.

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Liberate Hong Kong; Revolution of our Times. Photo: May James/HKFP.

“The slogan was to express the rapid decline of what we were promised in the Basic Law, including a high degree of autonomy, that our way of life would remain unchanged for 50 years, as well as other rights and freedoms,” she wrote. “I hope the central government can keep those promises, in accordance with the Basic Law, and reform the political system…”.

Pro-Beijing heavyweight Maria Tam told the reporters on Friday she believed electoral officers failed to properly vet candidates because no one had been disqualified due to the slogan last year.

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.