Hong Kong police have fined 47 people for breaching Covid-19 social distancing regulations after they attended a private film screening at the offices of a pro-democracy district councillor in Mong Kok.
The fines are despite crowds of over 200 congregating nearby a week earlier during a controversial production starring Hollywood actor Nicole Kidman. Meanwhile, a pro-Beijing labour group has been allowed to hold mass screenings of mainland Chinese films every week since late June.
Police and officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department raided the screening of filmmaker Kiwi Chow’s romance film Beyond the Dream on Friday evening, after the event was reported to the authorities, the force told HKFP.
Chow, who was also in attendance to discuss his film with the group, told reporters outside the office that he thought the raid was “absurd.”
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“I don’t understand why this has happened. Why would such a thing happen when we were screening a film in a private setting…? I think it’s absurd.”
The screening’s organiser district councillor Derek Chu said he was very surprised by the raid, as the event was private and restricted to friends and family, calling the fines “unreasonable.”
He added that he suspected two undercover informants had infiltrated the group and paid for entry on the night.
Chow produced a documentary about the 2019 pro-democracy protests that made a surprise debut at Cannes last month.
Members of the audience, who were masked, were fined HK$5,000. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department told RTHK it suspected that the venue was used for public entertainment without a licence.
Free expression ‘protected’
The raid came as Hong Kong introduces more stringent censorship rules to retroactively ban films deemed to endanger national security.
Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau claimed the new censorship rules protected freedom of expression in the city, saying that only one of 400 films reviewed has been banned.
“The national security law and the Basic Law state clearly that the freedoms we treasure, like the freedoms of speech and creation, are protected,” the secretary said on Saturday.
Pro-Beijing film festival
The incident came even as the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions has organised weekly film screenings as part of its movie festival celebrating 100 years of Chinese films. Since late June, the festival has drawn audiences of over 200 people, according to its website.
The group held its latest screening on Sunday, two days after officers broke up the event at Chu’s office.
Commenting on the mass film screening, Chu accused authorities of a double standard on Saturday. “The magistrates are free to burn down houses, while the common people are forbidden even to light lamps,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
Social distancing measures limit public gatherings to a maximum of four people, even as Hong Kong’s daily infections have remained low for over two months. The city reported seven new infections on Sunday, all of which were imported.
Other large gatherings over the weekend included the Affordable Arts Fair in Wan Chai and a concert at Aberdeen’s Ocean Park.
In all, police have handed out 1,289 fixed penalties for Covid-19 social distancing violations this month, according to figures provided by the force.