Hong Kong authorities stepped up their campaign against overseas activists in July, issuing warrants and offering unprecedented HK$1 million bounties for information leading to the arrest of eight democrats. Family members of several of the eight were taken away for questioning, and others accused of helping the activists were arrested.
Four years after the 2019 protests and unrest, the court on July 28 rejected the government’s application for an injunction to ban Glory to Hong Kong – the unofficial anthem of the 2019 protesters.
And, as the city marked the 26th anniversary of its Handover, top officials celebrated its “fast track to recovery” and the implementation of “patriots ruling Hong Kong.” But they also warned against what they called continuing “soft resistance.”
HK$1 million bounties for overseas activists
National security police issued arrest warrants for eight self-exiled activists on July 3, along with HK$1 million bounties for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of each.
The eight include ex-lawmakers Ted Hui and Dennis Kwok; activists Nathan Law, Anna Kwok, Elmer Yuen, Mung Siu-tat and Finn Lau; and solicitor Kevin Yam. They were last known to be living in the US, UK, Australia and Canada.
The US, the UK, and Australia decried the national security arrest warrants, while the Hong Kong government hit back at what it called “unsubstantiated accusations” against the police operations.
Two days after the arrest warrants were issued, security minister Chris Tang lashed out at Nathan Law as a “modern day traitor” and said the eight would be hunted down for life.
Tang did not reply to questions about whether police would seek assistance from Interpol. The international policing body told HKFP that that no request for a Red Notice or Wanted Persons Diffusion for the eight activists had been received.
Chief Executive John Lee said on July 11 the eight should be treated like “street rats” which people should “avoid at all costs”.
Meanwhile, a Hong Kong lawyers’ group said it was investigating allegations related to one of its members who is among the eight. Melbourne-based solicitor Kevin Yam said he was the member referred to by the Law Society.
Families of wanted activists targeted
Following the arrest warrants, national security police took away for questioning Nathan Law’s mother, father and brother, four family members of Dennis Kwok including his brother, and also the brother, sister-in-law and nephew of Mung Siu-tat.
In addition, pro-Beijing lawmaker Eunice Yung, the daughter-in-law of Elmer Yuen, said she had her home searched and was questioned by national security police for nearly three hours on July 24.
“I cooperated with the police and have told them everything I know. I know the police have made up their minds to seek evidence relating to the eight wanted [activists] and I support the police action,” Yung said on Monday afternoon at the legislature, adding that “this incident has not affected my relationship with [her husband] Derek Yuen so far.”
Along with the New People’s Party legislator, Elmer Yuen’s eldest daughter Mimi and his son Derek were also questioned by police on Monday.
Derek is a former adviser to the New People’s Party. He told Sing Tao Daily last week that he had “a brief meeting” with his father but there were no financial exchanges.
Ex-members of Demosisto arrested
Five former members of the now-defunct Hong Kong pro-democracy party Demosisto were arrested on July 5 and July 6 over the alleged support for overseas activists.
Among them, four men were arrested on July 5, including Ivan Lam, a former chairperson of the party. Another man Chu Yan-ho, a former member of the standing committee of the defunct political group, was arrested at the airport on July 6.
All of them have been released on bail.
Two other ex-members, Lily Wong and Chan Kok-hin, were arrested weeks later. Media reports citing sources said that the pair were also arrested on suspicion of funding Nathan Law.
Demosisto was co-founded by Law, as well as jailed activist Joshua Wong and former activist Agnes Chow.
Officers were photographed seizing banners and flags relating to an online shopping app called “Mee.” The app was created in 2020 to share discounts and information about “yellow businesses” – restaurants, shops and service providers that support democracy in Hong Kong.
One week later, a former member of Demosisto, Derek Lam, was questioned by national security police with officers searching his home in Sai Ying Pun. Police told HKFP they took away two men and a woman on the morning of July 13 for questioning.
47 democrats: Ex-journalist testifies
Journalist-turned activist Gwyneth Ho testified in the national security trial relating to 47 pro-democracy figures. Calling communist China a totalitarian regime was an “objective” description without any derogatory meaning, she said on July 25.
The former reporter for now-defunct online news outlet Stand News took the witness stand for seven days in July, as the closely-watched trial – which revolves around an opposition legislative primary election in July 2020 – continued. Day 94 of the hearing was on July 28.
Gwyneth Ho also testified that organising the primary poll had not been a “waste of time,” despite knowing pro-democracy candidates may not win majority control of the legislature.
But she said it would have been realistic for the democrats to have gained a majority in the Legislative Council had Beijing not intervened with methods outside of the Basic Law.
47 democrats: Barrister, ex-district councillors testify
Barrister Lawrence Lau, one of the 47 pro-democracy figures charged with conspiring to commit subversion, testified in early July that he never received WhatsApp messages from the organisers of the primary because he “did not like [the] software.”
He denied having signed an online declaration entitled “Resolute Resistance, Inked Without Regret.” It was signed by 33 defendants in the case, political groups the Civic Party and Neo Democrats on behalf of their members taking part in the primary, and activists Nathan Law and Sunny Cheung, who fled Hong Kong before the democrats were rounded up.
One of the missions of the grassroots pro-democracy group Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood was to uphold Chinese sovereignty, its ex-chairman Sze Tak-loy said in court as he took the witness stand on July 10.
The former district councillor said Hongkongers wanted to achieve the five demands popularised during the protests and unrest in 2019, not for lawmakers to veto the budget in the legislature.
Bid to ban protest anthem
Hong Kong’s High Court on Friday rejected a government bid to ban people from performing or playing the pro-democracy protest song Glory to Hong Kong with an intent to violate the sedition law, national security law, or the national anthem law.
The court said that such a move could have a “chilling” effect on freedom of speech. Judge Anthony Chan said in his ruling he was not “satisfied” that it was “just and convenient” to grant the government’s request for an injunction.
The Department of Justice made the move following several mix-ups at international sporting events, when organisers relying on Google searches mistook the protest song for the official national anthem, China’ s March of the Volunteers.
But the court raised concerns over the “chilling effects” a ban would bring.
“Given that the Injunction is aimed at criminal acts but not lawful activities, I believe that the intrusion to freedom of expression here, especially to innocent third parties, is what is referred to in public law as ‘chilling effects’,” Chan wrote.
The injunction bid had sparked concern among critics about the potential implications for free speech. Hong Kong, unlike the rest of China, does not generally censor the internet despite the sweeping Beijing-drafted national security law passed in June 2020.
China’s seeks to silence Lai’s son at UN
China’s representative intervened at the UN in late June in an effort to stop the son of detained media tycoon Jimmy Lai from testifying.
Sebastien Lai, who was urging for his father’s release, was interrupted during an Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
During the hearing, the Chinese representative interrupted, claiming that the statement was unrelated to the meeting’s agenda: “Trials mentioned are underway. We don’t want anyone to use this platform to exaggerate in that regard – we request the president to immediately interrupt this NGO.”
The request was rejected by the president overseeing the meeting.
Patriotic programming impartiality clause
Hong Kong authorities proposed that programmes about national education, national identity, and the “correct understanding” of the national security law be exempt from an impartiality clause requiring “even-handedness.”
In a public consultation document released on July 17 evening, the Communications Authority said it had considered licensees’ concerns that programmes meant to “[engender] a correct sense of national identity” could give rise to complaints that no opposing views had been included.
‘Soft resistance’ warning
Hong Kong must stay vigilant against “soft resistance” and be proactive in safeguarding national security, Chief Executive John Lee said on July 1 as the city marked 26 years since its Handover from Britain to China.
For the first time in three years, attendees gathered at Golden Bauhinia Square without face masks after the city scrapped its last remaining Covid-19 curbs in March. Among those on the front row of the flag-raising ceremony were Lee, former chief executives Carrie Lam, Leung Chun-ying and Donald Tsang, Chief Justice Andrew Cheung and the director of China’s liaison office in Hong Kong Zheng Yanxiong.
Self-censorship among journalists
Almost 70 per cent of journalists surveyed in Hong Kong say they have self-censored in their own writing, a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club found.
The results, released on July 5, surveyed members on working conditions in the city. In response to a question about the extent to which respondents have self-censored their writing “either in content or by avoiding covering certain subjects,” 47 per cent said “slightly,” while 18 per cent said “considerably.”
Gamer’s ‘sensitive’ wording
A professional e-sports player was suspended from competing for three years after allegedly using “sensitive wording“ in his gaming account name, according to the Esports Association of Hong Kong, China (ESAHK)’s statement issued on July 17.
The player involved used “Eazy.D.L.光復” as his account name, in which the two Chinese characters mean “Liberate,” in a competition hosted by the Asian Electronic Sports Federation, according to local media reports.
Article 23 – Hong Kong’s local security law
Hong Kong’s own upcoming security legislation will have provisions to deal with “soft resistance,” Secretary for Security Chris Tang has said.
In an interview with state-backed newspaper Ta Kung Pao published on July 3, the security chief said Hong Kong had seen “soft resistance” in recent years, as well as online discussions and publications that could easily radicalise people.
On July 17, Tang told state-backed newspaper Wen Wei Po that the authorities were considering cases of “soft resistance” and “internet loopholes” when drafting Article 23.
There is no conflict between journalistic work and the existing Beijing-imposed national security law, Chief Secretary for Administration Eric Chan said.
The protection of press freedom was stipulated in the sweeping security law and the Basic Law, said Chan in an interview with RTHK on July 2. However, “the freedom of fake news” was not protected, the city’s number two official added.
Article 23 of the Basic Law stipulates that the government shall enact laws on its own to prohibit acts of treason, secession, sedition and subversion against Beijing. Efforts to pass such a law failed in 2003 following mass protests and it was not tabled again until after the onset of the separate, Beijing-imposed security law in 2020. Pro-democracy advocates fear it could have a negative effect on civil liberties.
National anthem law jailing
A 27-year-old man who replaced China’s national anthem with protest song Glory to Hong Kong in an online video was sentenced to three months in prison on July 20 after being convicted of insulting the national anthem.
The sentencing marked the culmination of the city’s first trial under the National Anthem Ordinance, which came into effect in June 2020, and the first ruling related to the protest song.
New national security commissioner
Beijing on July 18 appointed a commissioner to oversee its national security apparatus in Hong Kong. The State Council announced that Dong Jingwei had been appointed commissioner of national security.
The announcement did not specify Dong’s previous role.
But according to multiple official statements on Chinese government websites, there is a vice minister of national security by the same name.
Foreign sanctions bid
A draft bill that could shut down Hong Kong’s economic and trade offices in the US was approved by the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs on July 13. The action was strongly condemned by the Hong Kong government and the city’s commerce chief.
In February, Senators Marco Rubio and Jeff Merkley introduced the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office Certification Act.
This would require the White House to remove the privileges, exemptions, and immunities given to all the Hong Kong trade offices in the US if it decided that “Hong Kong no longer enjoys a high degree of autonomy” from Beijing.
Washington will bar Chief Executive John Lee from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum meeting in the US this November, along with ten other Hong Kong officials, the Washington Post reported on Friday citing sources. Lee is still under US sanctions.
In response, the Hong Kong government said APEC had “standing rules and conventions for hosting meetings” – that leaders of its member economies were invited, and that the host was responsible for issuing invitations to all leaders and facilitating their attendance.
Arrest and prosecution tally
As of July 21, 265 people had been arrested over suspected acts and activities that endangered national security since the legislation was enacted on June 30, 2020, the Security Bureau told HKFP. Among those, 161 people and five companies have been charged.
According to the Bureau, 80 people have been convicted or are awaiting sentencing, among them 30 were convicted or are awaiting sentencing under the Beijing-imposed law. It did not specify the offences committed by the remaining 42 defendants.