A Hong Kong café known for being sympathetic to the 2019 extradition bill protests has claimed that the police asked them to remove “sensitive” items from the shop, citing potential violations of the Beijing-imposed national security law.
Not One Less Coffee told HKFP last Friday that police went to the shop in Sheung Wan a day before and warned that some items on display may breach the security legislation, which targets secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts.
According to the cafe’s proprietor Ms Law, three uniformed officers showed up to handle a street obstruction complaint concerning a one-metre-tall wooden sign outside the shop. The police also asked the shop to put away some items which they described as sensitive, without explicitly stating which slogans or phrases on the publicity materials were deemed as potentially illegal, she said.
The pro-democracy shop said they put away a flag containing “the eight words” a few days ago, while continuing to display other posters and objects. Hong Kong’s court ruled in July last year that the eight-word slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” ubiquitous in the 2019 extradition bill protests, was capable of inciting secession.
“The remaining ones [contained phrases] such as ‘resist with you, I am very happy,’ ‘without any fear’… we did not remove them, because we thought they did not breach [the national security law],” she said.
In response to HKFP’s enquiries last Friday, police confirmed Law’s statement that officers urged the shop to remove an advertisement sign after receiving complaints that it blocked the pedestrian road.
When handling the complaint, police officers also discovered that the coffee shop did not own a restaurant license, the Force said. They told the proprietor to obtain the relevant licence as soon as possible in order to fulfil the legal requirements for operating a restaurant.
“The proprietor said they understood and took the advertising board back into the shop,” police wrote in an email reply, adding that street obstruction could lead to accidents.
Police did not respond to questions over whether the operation last Thursday involved warnings of potential national security violations.
Law admitted to HKFP that the shop did not have a restaurant license. According to the proprietor, they submitted all documents required to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department for applying for a restaurant license. But their permit was on hold after the FEHD received complaints – on a daily basis – over the shop’s “poor hygiene” and “unhygienic food” served. The government department also did not issue a temporary restaurant license as a result, she said.
“Now that we asked again, the FEHD said it will take around one month for them to see if they could give us a license,” Law said.
In response to HKFP’s questions, the FEHD confirmed that the coffee shop submitted the relevant application on April 25, but the applicant cancelled the application on May 10. A new application was filed in mid-May and the department is processing it based on procedures.
A total of three complaints were filed against the café, the FEHD said, adding the department pressed charges against the coffee shop operator on July 12 for operating without a license.
The coffee shop “expected” police officers to pay frequent visits in the future, Law said, citing officers as telling the shop that they would check if the posters and objects with suspected illegal slogans were still visible.
Law said the shop would close temporarily when officers were present, and would reopen when they were gone. She added the police operation “seriously affected” the cafe’s business, as customers were “scared” by the police visits.
“They are trying to threaten us. They want to make us feel frightened and choose to close the shop ourselves,” she said.
Beijing-backed media attack
Earlier this month, Not One Less Coffee came under fire by Beijing-backed newspaper Wen Wei Po, which accused the shop of “spreading independence” and “spreading the virus.” Without stating the shop’s Chinese name in full, the newspaper said some staff members did not wear a face mask while preparing food in the café, along with photos taken inside the eatery which appeared to show baristas with their masks down to their chins.
There were quite a few objects and publicity materials inside the pro-democracy shop that “incited violence,” the report stated, including postcards with “black-clad violence patterns.” Some also contained slogans such as “we really fxxking love Hong Kong” and “don’t get used to it,” which were said be political slogans connected to violence in the protests.
Correction 25.7.2022: a previous version of this article incorrectly identified the coffee shop as No One Less Coffee. The name should be Not One Less Coffee. We regret this error.