Hong Kong’s use of the security law to clamp down on dissent heightened in the final month of 2020. December saw university graduates arrested under the security law for shouting banned slogans. Later in the month, Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai was charged with colluding with foreign forces while former opposition lawmakers and activists have fled, with some seeking asylum abroad. HKFP continues its monthly roundups on the latest developments.

carrie lam oath ceremony civil servants
Top officials take oaths of allegiance in December 2020. Photo: GovHK screenshot.

i-Cable fires investigatory reporting team

December began with the broadcaster i-Cable abruptly firing at least 40 members of staff without notice – including the entire News Lancet investigatory team. The 12 members of staff of the China investigative programme collectively resigned in protest and solidarity. The broadcaster cited financial difficulties, but critics have questioned whether the mass firing was also politically motivated.

Ex-opposition lawmakers and activists flee

Former opposition lawmaker Ted Hui fled to the UK by way of Denmark. Hui left the city with the help of Danish politicians who arranged for his attendance at a fake climate change conference. He later announced he was going into “self-exile” with his family. The ex-legislator faces nine ongoing legal charges relating to unauthorised assemblies last year and protests within the legislative chamber.

Within days of Hui’s announcement, HSBC partially froze Hui and his family member’s accounts, as police cited a money laundering probe. Police also announced they were investigating possible charges of collusion with foreign forces under the security law. Chief Executive Carrie Lam has dismissed suggestions that the freezing of the account was “political revenge” against Hui for fleeing.

Nathan Law and Ted Hui
Nathan Law and Ted Hui (right). Photo: Nathan Law, via Facebook.

Separately, Baggio Leung — another former opposition lawmaker — announced he had fled to seek asylum in the US. He said he was severing his ties to his family members on social media. Chinese state media has reported both Leung and Hui as “wanted” fugitives over suspected security law charges.

Late in the month, yet another former opposition lawmaker Nathan Law announced his decision to seek asylum in the UK. He had fled to the UK shortly after Beijing’s passing of the security law in July.

Meanwhile, a teenage activist who was shot in the chest by a police officer last year reportedly went into exile. His 15-year-old girlfriend left the city mere weeks beforehand to seek asylum in the UK.

University graduates arrested over banned slogans

Police confirmed the arrest of eight university students over a pro-democracy demonstration on the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s campus. The students were arrested on charges relating to an unauthorised assembly and for “inciting secession.” The graduates had reportedly shouted and displayed slogans banned under the security law.

CUHK Chinese university of hong kong protest march nov 19 2020 20201119
File Photo: RL/Studio Incendo.

Activist suspected of violating law for detention cell graffiti

A 30 year-old detainee was suspected of additional security law charges after graffiti advocating Hong Kong Independence was found in his detention cell. Late last month, Ma Chun-man was charged with inciting others to commit secession — making him the third man to be charged under the security law.

Apple Daily founder charged for collusion with foreign forces, citing tweets

Founder of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily Jimmy Lai became the fourth to be charged under the law. He was charged with allegedly colluding with foreign forces. For much of December, he was remanded in custody on separate fraud charges relating to an office lease agreement. On its charge sheet, the prosecution cited Lai’s tweets and interviews with foreign media.

Bookstore chain refuses political title

Bookstore chain Bookazine declined to stock a political title by an HKFP columnist, citing security law fears. The incident comes amid growing fears of self censorship under the security law in the city’s publishing sector.

Civil servants swear loyalty to gov’t

Hong Kong’s government officials swore an oath of allegiance to the city and to uphold the Basic Law after the government announced new requirements in July. The mandatory oath-taking follows the government’s ousting of four opposition lawmakers last month for allegedly violating their respective oaths of allegiance under the city’s mini-constitution.

carrie lam oath ceremony civil servants
Top officials take oaths of allegiance in December 2020. Photo: GovHK screenshot.

US changes travel safety warning for Hong Kong, blacklists Gov’t Flying Service

The US State Department conflated its travel warning for Hong Kong with that for mainland China, citing the possibility of arbitrary arrest under the security law. The travel warning for the city is now set at the second highest level.

Separately, the US Department of Commerce added the Government Flying Service to a trade blacklist, limiting the US goods and technologies the division can purchase. The department cited human rights abuses and US national security concerns for expanding their list of blacklisted Chinese entities.

Pro-democracy activists have accused the service of tracking the 12 Hong Kong fugitives who have been sentenced to imprisonment in Shenzhen for illegally entering mainland waters. One fugitive, Andy Li, had been arrested on the suspicion of security law charges before attempting to flee to Taiwan.

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Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.