The Hong Kong authorities are refusing to admit they published a false claim about activist Nathan Law “jumping bail” in a statement last Friday, in which they accused the self-exiled ex-lawmaker of being “shameless,” “defamatory” and “slandering.”

Nathan Law
Nathan Law. Photo: Karen Cheung/HKFP.

Law left of his own accord last July and had not been charged or released on bail at the time.

HKFP repeatedly enquired with the Information Services Department (ISD) and Judiciary this week as to what date Law was apparently granted bail. The Judiciary twice said it would “not comment on individual cases,” when asked about the date, despite multiple statements on the case from other departments.

Meanwhile, the ISD evaded the question and stated that a “summons was issued to Law for his suspected criminal offences but he failed to appear in court.”

Nathan law government claim
Responses, and follow-up responses from the ISD and the Judiciary. Photo: HKFP screenshot.

An arrest warrant was issued last October 16 after Law failed to appear in court in connection with a banned Tiananmen Massacre commemoration.

However, no summons was ever served to Law, nor bail granted, as he had moved to the UK last July in the wake of the national security law.

2 July 2020Law announces on Twitter he has left Hong Kong for the UK out of security concerns, days after the national security law is passed and his group, Demosisto, is disbanded.
1 August, 2020Chinese state media report that Law is wanted by Hong Kong police for allegedly violating the national security law, though the Force refuses to confirm.
16 October, 2020An arrest warrant is issued for Law after he fails to appear in court over banned Tiananmen Massacre commemoration.
7 April, 2021Law says the UK has granted him asylum.
10 December, 2021The Hong Kong government falsely claims Law has skipped bail after he speaks at a democracy summit hosted by US President Joe Biden.

“We have to point out that it is Nathan Law, an absconder betraying Hong Kong, who constantly defames Hong Kong and the Central Government by making untruthful and malicious remarks. We will pursue him and all other fugitives with every means to ensure that they will be brought to justice,” a government spokesperson added.

Friday’s government’s statement was prompted by Law’s appearance at the Summit for Democracy –  a virtual summit hosted by US President Joe Biden “to renew democracy at home and confront autocracies abroad.”  

The local authorities did not directly answer as to whether the government would retract the claim about Law jumping bail, or whether the statement was potentially defamatory.

‘Fake news’

The gaffe over the status of Law is not the first time the authorities have aired misleading statements this month.

A week previously, security chief Chris Tang claimed that a report citing the 2019 police siege of the Chinese University of Hong Kong was “fake news” as officers never entered the campus. But photos later showed that they had crossed onto the campus and battled with pro-democracy demonstrators during the anti-extradition law protests and unrest.

november 12 CUHK chinese university
Police arrest protesters on CUHK campus. Photo: Stand News.

In April, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that Hong Kong’s government was the “biggest victim of fake news.”

She has vowed to crack down on misinformation with a “fake news” law and greater supervision of the media.

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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.