June 4 restrictions, journalist wins in court, EU resolution
In this issue: How public Tiananmen Square massacre commemorations have been silenced, a journalist wins a rare appeal in court, Hong Kongers in the United Kingdom assaulted, and the European Parliament adopts a resolution calling for repeal of the National Security Law.
Image of the month: Cautious Congratulations
New caution in Hong Kong surrounding the date of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre was evident in this series of advertisements published in Ming Pao, a prominent newspaper that celebrated the 64th anniversary of its launch on May 20. Dozens of ads from local and international businesses offered congratulations but all made reference to moving “toward its 65th anniversary”— evidently wary of using the numbers six and four to recall the date of the massacre even in a wholly separate context. Credit: Photon Media
Highlights from this issue:
- Tiananmen Square Massacre commemorations restricted
- Journalist wins rare appeal
- Protest anthem injunction could increase internet censorship
- Hong Kongers in United Kingdom assaulted, event canceled
- European Parliament adopts resolution on National Security Law
Rule of Law
- Journalist wins rare appeal: On June 5, the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong overturned a lower-court ruling that found award-winning journalist Bao Choy guilty in April 2021 of making false statements when trying to access a government database of vehicle registration records. Choy had been working in 2019 for public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) and was using the records to identify attackers in a violent assault on train travelers, many of them prodemocracy protesters, at Yuen Long station. The appeals court found that her selection of “traffic and transport-related matters” as the reason for accessing the database could reasonably include “bona fide journalism,” and that a “grave injustice” had been done in convicting her. The decision was a rare win for journalists in Hong Kong at a time when many in the media industry are facing prosecution under sedition and national security laws. Indeed, two weeks after the decision, on June 19, three court of appeals judges blocked a bid by media mogul Jimmy Lai to challenge a warrant obtained by police to search the content of his mobile phones. Lai is due to face trial in September on national security charges.
- “Deradicalization” program targets juvenile prisoners: On June 8, the Washington Post published an investigation of the treatment of political prisoners, especially youth under the age of 21, in Hong Kong’s prisons. Drawing on interviews with prisoners, former guards, and official documents, the report outlines a deradicalization program—referred officially as “targeted rehabilitation”—that aims to change the political views of detainees. Tactics used include daily viewing of CCP propaganda videos, pro-Beijing lectures, and forced apologies, accompanied by punishments such as solitary confinement, restricted communication with family, and occasional beatings. Though relatively less violent, the endeavor is reminiscent of reeducation and “transformation” programs deployed in mainland China against dissidents, Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Falun Gong practitioners.
- Pro-Beijing carnival replaces June 4 candlelight vigil, journalist arrested: For decades, Hong Kong was the only city in the People’s Republic of China where public commemoration of the 1989 massacre of prodemocracy protests could take place, with tens of thousands gathering in Victoria Park for a candlelight vigil. During the COVID-19 pandemic and after adoption of the National Security Law (NSL) in 2020, authorities have prohibited the vigil. This year, the location instead hosted a three-day festival organized by 26 pro-Beijing groups; police meanwhile detained at least 23 people who had disrupted “public order” by attempting to commemorate the massacre. These included two who planned to conduct a hunger strike and two artists, one of whom shouted “Do not forget June 4!” as he was being taken away by police. Over 6,000 police were deployed to the area. At least one journalist, Mak Yin-ting, a freelancer for Radio France Internationale and former head of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), was detained by police without explanation when trying to report at the carnival, though later released without charge.
- Protest anthem injunction could increase internet censorship: On June 5, the Hong Kong government applied for a court injunction against the song “Glory to Hong Kong,” the unofficial anthem of the 2019 prodemocracy protests. In recent months, the song had been played as the territory’s anthem at international sporting events—apparently by accident—angering the government. After a hearing on June 12, the judge postponed consideration of the application until July 21. But media were already reporting that it was unavailable on local versions of online music stores and applications like iTunes, Spotify, and Facebook; according to one report, this was because the distributor had taken it down, not the platforms. If approved per the government’s request, the injunction would ban performing or disseminating the song, including online, within Hong Kong. Experts raised concerns over how this might be implemented and whether it would lead to broader restrictions on internet freedom, in cases where the song is hosted on a website based outside of China, for example.
Academic and Artistic Freedom
- Survey on Tiananmen Square massacre, concert by prodemocracy singer canceled: New caution surrounding the date of June 4 was evident when a public opinion research institute canceled at the last minute publication of an annual survey of Hong Kongers about June 4 after receiving a warning from the government. Separately, on May 25, the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre canceled a concert scheduled for August of popular prodemocracy Cantopop star Anthony Wong without explanation. Wong has reportedly tried to book multiple venues but faced repeated rejections, leaving him unable to perform in Hong Kong since December 2021.
Beyond Hong Kong
- Hong Kongers in United Kingdom assaulted, event canceled: On June 11, a group of Chinese individuals violently attacked pro-Hong Kong demonstrators after a rally to mark the anniversary of 2019 prodemocracy protests in the territory. Footage of the attack circulating on social media showed three Chinese men kicking and manhandling a man and woman in Southampton, where police said they were investigating the incident as a “hate-related assault.” One of the attackers is seen shouting in Mandarin, “Hong Kong belongs to China” and waving a Chinese flag. Another video reportedly circulated on WeChat later in which the attackers, possibly students at the University of Southampton, bragged about the assault. Separately, in late May, pro-Hong Kong groups reported that a local church in Guildford revoked at the last minute permission for an educational event about Hong Kong centered on a children’s book series, “Sheep Village,” forcing its cancellation. The books’ authors, many of them speech therapists, were jailed last September under sedition laws in Hong Kong. The church claimed that it had revoked its permission because the community was “composed of people of different nationalities,” implying a fear of offending Chinese members, although it has hosted other potentially politically sensitive events including ones about Ukraine and Pakistan.
- Hong Kongers at home and abroad remember June 4: Despite increased restrictions on public commemoration of the Tiananmen Massacre, some Hong Kongers still chose to note the 1989 crackdown anniversary with private candlelight vigils, subtle displays in store windows, or by reading books in public about the incident. Overseas Hong Kongers joined Chinese activists’ commemorations and a popular Cantonese play “May 35”—a euphemism for June 4 used to evade censorship—that can no longer be performed in Hong Kong, held its Mandarin debut in Taiwan.
- Hong Kong Free Press wins journalism awards: Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP), an independent digital outlet, won an honorable mention at the prestigious Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) awards on June 15. The article awarded was an op-ed by journalist Yuan Chan published on Press Freedom Day in 2022 about the courage of reporters amid attacks on media. It was recognized in the category Excellence in Opinion Writing. Last month, a photograph published in the HKFP also won honorable mention at the Human Rights Press Awards.
- European Parliament adopts resolution on National Security Law, Jimmy Lai prosecution: On June 15, the European Parliament adopted an Urgent Resolution “on the deterioration of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong, notably the case of Jimmy Lai,” with 483 votes in favor, 9 against, and 42 abstentions. The resolution urges Hong Kong authorities to repeal the National Security Law and to immediately and unconditionally release Lai and other prodemocracy activists. It also urges actions by European Union member states such as suspending extradition treaties with Hong Kong and China and introducing sanctions against relevant officials.
What to Watch For
- Increased arrests, censorship surrounding anniversary of handover, National Security Law: Following on the heels of the June 4 Tiananmen massacre anniversary, two additional sensitive dates will occur in the coming weeks: June 30, the three-year anniversary of adoption of the National Security Law by Beijing and July 1, marking 26 years since the territory was handed back to China. Watch for tightened security, activist arrests, and online censorship, as well as international calls for the Hong Kong and Beijing governments to ease restrictions on political rights and civil liberties.
- Next steps in youth prosecutions: On June 18, media outlets reported that 23-year-old Yuan Ching-ting, who was arrested in Hong Kong after returning from studies in Japan, was indicted under the 2020 National Security Law. The arrest was related to social media posts about Hong Kong independence she made while in Japan. Earlier in the month, three young men were found guilty of rioting in a case centered on the 2019 police siege against protesters at Polytechnic University, which took place during the year’s prodemocracy protest movement. The court handed down sentences of up to 5 years and 2 months in prison, including against an individual who claimed to have been on the campus as a photojournalist. Watch for the next stages in these cases, including the extraterritorial implications of Yuan’s prosecution, as well as developments related to Jimmy Lai’s trial, scheduled for September.
- Financial troubles of pro-democracy media, Hong Kong Journalist Association: In early June, Channel C, an online Cantonese pro-democracy news outlet founded by journalists from the now shuttered Apple Daily, announced it was facing financial difficulties and possible bankruptcy, calling on readers to sign up for paid subscriptions. The outlet reportedly has over 2 million followers across various social media platforms, but few sources of revenue amid government censorship and said it might need to close as early as July if unable to raise sufficient funds. The long-standing Hong Kong Journalists Association is also facing financial strain as membership has dropped amid media closures and a more dangerous environment for journalists since 2019. Watch for whether either of these entities are forced to close and the impact on news consumers and journalists.
The Hong Kong Bulletin is a monthly email newsletter that provides unique insight into media freedom and freedom of expression issues in Hong Kong, drawing on both English and Chinese-language sources.