Google has terminated John Lee’s YouTube channel, which he was using as part of his campaign for Hong Kong’s one-horse leadership race on May 8.

“Google complies with applicable US sanctions laws and enforces related policies under its Terms of Service. After review and consistent with these policies, we terminated the Johnlee2022 YouTube channel,” a spokesperson told HKFP on Wednesday.

John Lee
John Lee. File photo: John Lee campaign.

Lee – Hong Kong’s ex-chief secretary and former security chief – is the sole candidate in the small-circle election set to take place in 18 days.

He was among 11 Hong Kong and Chinese officials sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury in August 2020 for “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy” and “restricting the freedom of expression or assembly of the citizens of Hong Kong.”

The then-security minister was said to have been involved in “coercing, arresting, detaining, or imprisoning” people under the security law, as well as developing, adopting and implementing the legislation.

Lee hit back at the US, accusing it of being a “hypocrite” that adopted “double standards,” adding that the country had its own laws to protect national security.

US Treasury
Photo: woodleywonderworks, via Flickr.

Following the the action by the US, social media giant Facebook barred Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other sanctioned officials from using advertising tools on the platform.

In response to an enquiry from HKFP, a spokesperson for Facebook’s parent company Meta said that Lee could maintain “demonetized presences on Facebook and Instagram,” adding that they “have taken steps to prevent the use of payments services.”

“As a U.S. company, we operate under the constraints of U.S. laws, which vary by circumstance. If we identify accounts maintained by or on behalf of people on the U.S. Government’s list of Specially Designated Nationals, we have a legal obligation to take certain action,” the spokesperson said.

‘Regretful and very illogical’

Google’s move was deemed “illogical” by Lee’s campaign director Tam Yiu-chung on Wednesday.

“[The account] cannot be recovered, so this can’t be changed. We received their suspension notice, and of course we find it very regretful and very illogical. But, we think that they cannot stop us from spreading our messages to the public. We will continue with our election campaign work.”

John Lee election Tam Yiu-chung
Chief executive hopeful John Lee meets the press after submitting his nomination forms at City Gallery. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

He added that there are still plenty of channels for his team to disseminate messages. “We think this will not affect our election campaign works,” Tam said.

The DAB’s Holden Chow, the chair of the Legislative Council’s Panel on Constitutional Affairs, said on Wednesday that the Hong Kong government should lodge solemn representations with the social media platform. Chow said the incident was a serious matter and involved blatant interference by foreign forces in Hong Kong’s election.

Chow said that if it set a precedent, it may allow foreign forces to blatantly and violently interfere in Hong Kong’s elections again and stop the polls from proceeding fairly and justly. He condemned Google for ignoring the importance of fairness and impartiality in an election.

HKFP has reached out to the Lee team, as well as Meta, to enquire whether Facebook will continue to host Lee’s profile.

Additional reporting: Hillary Leung.

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Tom founded Hong Kong Free Press in 2015 and is the editor-in-chief. In addition to editing, he is responsible for managing the newsroom and company - including fundraising, recruitment and overseeing HKFP's web presence and ethical guidelines.

He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He previously led an NGO advocating for domestic worker rights, and has contributed to the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Al-Jazeera and others.