April 15 marked the second National Security Education Day in Hong Kong. The month also saw more blows to press freedom, with national security police arresting another journalist for allegedly publishing “seditious materials.” Press groups suspended awards, citing “red lines” and legal risks. HKFP continues its monthly round-up of developments.
Veteran journalist Allan Au was arrested by national security police for allegedly conspiring to publish seditious materials, under the city’s colonial-era law. His case was believed to be linked to that of media outlet Stand News, which shut down after seven people linked to the outlet were arrested and its newsroom raided last December.
The 54-year-old journalist worked as a senior producer at TVB News and as a radio host on RTHK, and was also a columnist for outlets including Stand News and Ming Pao.
International media watchdog Reporters without Borders said Au’s arrest showed “the government’s determination to put an end to press freedom in the territory.”
Chief Executive Carrie Lam declined to comment on Au’s arrest, saying freedom of the press and speech are protected under the Basic Law.
John Lee, the sole candidate in Hong Kong’s small-circle leadership race, said there was no need to “defend” press freedom “because it exists.” Lee also said enacting Article 23, the city’s own security law, would be a priority.
Lee resigned as chief secretary in early April to run for chief executive. The 64-year-old’s application was confirmed by the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee, after receiving more than 780 nominations.
Press awards axed
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club axed its annual Human Rights Press Awards, citing “red lines” and legal risks. Stand News had been set to win nine accolades, including for its coverage of the Yuen Long mob attack in July 2019 and the final days of Apple Daily.
The cancellation has drawn criticism from within the industry and the club. The FCC saw eight members of its Press Freedom Committee resign while one person also quit the club’s main board.
The club’s president Keith Richburg later apologised to the awards judges, saying the suspension was “in the best interest” of the club and its staff. Richburg told HKFP he was “absolutely confident” the awards would continue, but likely “with new sponsors and from a new location.”
The Hong Kong Journalists Association suspended its annual Kam Yiu-yu Press Freedom Award, citing the pandemic and socio-political involvement. The HKJA is currently being investigated by the Registry of Trade Unions, which has ordered it to provide financial information and explain some of its social media posts.
Pro-democracy activist “Fast Beat” Tam Tak-chi was sentenced to 40 months in jail and fined $5,000 for “uttering seditious words,” as well as joining and holding an unauthorised assembly.
The 50-year-old DJ was convicted of 11 charges in March, seven of them under the sedition law. He was accused of chanting the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” as well as making “baseless” accusations against the police, who he called “black cops.”
In a separate case, activist Max Chung was jailed for 16 months after pleading guilty to organising an unauthorised assembly to “reclaim” Yuen Long following the mob attack there in July 2019.
A university student was jailed for five years after pleading guilty to inciting secession under the Beijing-imposed national security law by running a pro-independence Telegram channel. Lui Sai-yu was accused of selling weapons and posting messages such as “Hong Kong independence [is] the only way out.” Lui was originally given a sentence discount for pleading guilty, but the judge overturned the initial punishment of three years and eight months and raised it to five years after the prosecution argued that the sentence should not fall below the minimum of five years for a national security offence.
In April more than 20 people were jailed for rioting during various anti-extradition protests in 2019. Thirteen people involved in a Sheung Wan protest in July 2019 were sentenced to up to four years in prison. Five people got up to four-and-a-half years, and three youngsters were sent to training centres for their involvement in a National Day protest in 2019.
Hong Kong courts also convicted more than a dozen anti-extradition protesters in April. Three people were found guilty of rioting outside the Central Government Offices in September 2019 but have not yet been sentenced.
The defence argued there was no surveillance camera footage to support the accusations but District Judge Stanley Chan accepted the testimony of police officers, adding the defendants wore dark-coloured clothing and carried protective gear.
Another District Court Judge, Josiah Lam, convicted 11 people of rioting at an anti-mask law protest in Wan Chai in October 2019, when protesters and police were involved in a violent clash and petrol bombs were hurled. Lam said the defendants were not bystanders and had “deliberately equipped themselves” to take part in the unlawful assembly. They are awaiting sentencing.
Leaving the city
More pro-democracy figures left Hong Kong, including prominent human rights lawyer Michael Vidler, senior pollster Chung Kim-wah and political cartoonist Ah To.
Vidler announced his law firm Vidler & Co. would cease operations in June after 19 years in the city. The company became associated with cases related to the 2019 protests and unrest.
Chung, who worked for the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, left for the UK after describing Hong Kong as a place where one may “no longer live normally and without intimidation.”
Ah To, who is known for his satirical cartoons about local politics, announced his departure on social media. He said he left because he “wanted to continue creating for Hong Kong.”
A number of politicians, academics and artists have fled Hong Kong since the implementation of the security law in June 2020, with most of them citing shrinking freedoms and fears of crossing “red lines.”