Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has defended a decision to censor films on national security grounds and said the move will not stifle creativity among moviemakers.

Carrie Lam
Carrie Lam. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

The government last week announced new rules under the Film Censorship Ordinance which will instruct authorities to censor or ban films that may “constitute an offence endangering national security.”

The move heightened fears that free speech is being further eroded under the national security law imposed by Beijing almost a year ago.

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Lam said Hong Kong enjoys free speech but guidelines on national security were unclear since the security law “was not being fully implemented” with regard to movies.

“[Film censorship] guidelines did not contain any element on national security, so it’s not ideal for these film reviewers as they do not know that this is something they need to consider under the national security law,” she told a press briefing on Tuesday.

Golden Scene cinema
Golden Scene cinema in Kennedy Town. File photo: Louise Delmotte/HKFP.

“Is it so easy to step on these red lines in a way that would stifle freedom in Hong Kong’s creative industry? I strongly believe it is not the case,” Lam said.

Last month, officials from the film regulator made at least three visits to private screening events organised by pro-democracy groups. They were warned that showing documentaries about the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre may have violated the law.

Police raid movie banned

On the same day that the new censorship guidelines were announced, the Fresh Wave International Short Film Festival announced that a film entitled Far From Home had been withdrawn from the event because organisers had been unable to obtain approval from the film regulator, Ming Pao reported.

The film depicts a young woman’s political differences with her mother as she clears out personal items from her boyfriend’s home after they were arrested at the 2019 protests, in anticipation of a police raid.

"Far From Home," Mok kwan ling
“Far From Home,” Short film entry to the Fresh Wave Film Festival. Photo: trailer screenshot.

Lam admitted the censorship changes may have caused anxiety in the film industry and said the government would engage with industry representatives.

“Since the national security law was enacted almost a year ago, a lot of people said they won’t be able to do many things, they can’t write articles or can’t criticise the chief executive. Most of these acts of free expression have continued in the past 12 months. The only things prohibited are those that violate the law,” Lam said.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.