Voice of Hong Kong http://www.vohk.hk One Hong Kong, Many Voices Sun, 09 May 2021 07:22:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.23 Calls for a free, independent media fallen on deaf ears http://www.vohk.hk/2021/05/09/calls-for-a-free-independent-media-fallen-on-deaf-ears/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2021/05/09/calls-for-a-free-independent-media-fallen-on-deaf-ears/#respond Sun, 09 May 2021 07:21:18 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=2212
記者-攝影記者-新聞自由-20210422224347_51cc_largeBy Chris Yeung — “If the media are silenced and journalists are muzzled, a key pillar of a functioning democracy is crushed. It means that...
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By Chris Yeung —

If the media are silenced and journalists are muzzled, a key pillar of a functioning democracy is crushed. It means that an institution that is vital to a free society, which seeks to ensure accountability, to highlight injustices, to inform the public about matters in their interest, and to serve as a conduit between the people and their representatives, is neutralised. The loss of a free, independent media is essentially the loss of democracy.”

These are remarks made by former UK Chief Justice Lord Neuberger, chair of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom, barrister and deputy of the panel Amal Clooney, members Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, and barrister Can Yeginsu to mark the annual World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

The importance of a free, independent media could not be emphasised more. That it is rapidly crumbling in Hong Kong, once known for its unfettered freedoms and a vibrant press, could not more saddening.

Arguably, the demise of a free, independent media in Hong Kong, where its partial-democracy is moving backwards towards autocracy, is even more damaging. It will further weaken official accountability and the media’s power to uncover injustice and people’s right to know.

Worse, it has come at a time when strengths of checks and balances by other institutions including the legislature, the judiciary and civil society are being eroded by an increasingly authoritarian executive branch.

The alarming trend of the Government, with the backing of the Chinese Central Government, striving to undermine the power of the media in monitoring the power-that-be began following the outbreak of the anti-extradition bill protest in 2019.

The protest, soon morphed into a social movement, saw systematic moves by the Police to block journalists from reporting the truth on the spot.

With the wave of protest ebbed largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic last year, the Government moved to neuter the power of the media in conducting search of public data in uncovering the truth. 

Various departments had either shut the door or imposed restrictions on those searches by journalists on matters including vehicle ownership, properties and land transactions and company directorship.

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For the first time, a RTHK programme producer Bao Choy was charged and later convicted of false statements in her application for a search of vehicle registration for a story about the Yuen Long attack on civilians on July 21, 2019.

In justifying the Government’s new curbs on journalists’ access to public data, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has argued that journalists have no special privileges, adding the right to privacy must be protected and doxxing be stopped.

No one is above the law. That is indisputable. The media is no exception. But under the Common Law system, the media are given the right to defend themselves under such laws as libel and privacy on grounds of public interest if their reports are deemed a breach of those laws.

The fact the media are treated differently is simply because the media plays a role of watchdog in the society. By monitoring the power and the rich, the media helps ensure a fair and clean society. For them to play their role, the right to have access to such data as vehicle registration, property transactions and company directorship is important.

That Mrs Lam has sought to stress the media does not enjoy the right to have access to those data, like other ordinary citizens, shows an ignorance of the role of the media as the fourth power – deliberately.

The intensified curbs on media’s access to records seem to be part of the move by the Government to regulate the media systematically. Mrs Lam has repeatedly said in various interviews with mainland media that the Government would “improve” the media system, a synonym of rectification in the communist dictionary.

A key component of the new media system looks certain to feature a law on fake news, which could be invoked to take the Apple Daily to court over cases like publishing a picture of children playing toy gun on national security education day side by side with the image of police brutality at a MTR station.

In their World Freedom Day remarks, Lord Neuberger wrote of the importance of independent judges and media. “Together, they hold power to account, enforce the rights of individuals and shed light on matters of public interest – and they also monitor each other.”

There are no lack of such calls for upholding judicial and media independence in Hong Kong. But like some other places in the world, they have fallen on deaf ears.

This article was first published on Apple Daily website on May 5.

 

 

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Beijing intensifies attack on Paul Harris – and the Bar http://www.vohk.hk/2021/05/02/beijing-intensifies-attack-on-paul-harris-and-the-bar/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2021/05/02/beijing-intensifies-attack-on-paul-harris-and-the-bar/#respond Sun, 02 May 2021 02:40:03 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=2207
Bar chairman Paul Harris, SC, is at the brunt of attack by Beijing and  local loyalists.By Chris Yeung — Stopped short of calling on the Bar Association to axe its chairman, China’s top office in Hong Kong has warned the...
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Bar chairman Paul Harris, SC, is at the brunt of attack by Beijing and  local loyalists.

By Chris Yeung —

Stopped short of calling on the Bar Association to axe its chairman, China’s top office in Hong Kong has warned the legal body would “go on a road of no return” if Paul Harris, SC, stays on.

The Liaison Office did not elaborate. Pro-Beijing figures have called for a disbandment of the association, which is registered under the Societies Ordinance. They claimed the legal body has already become a “political group.”

The attacks on Mr Harris, launched almost as soon as he took up the hot seat vacated by Philip Dykes, SC, in January due to his strong human rights background and membership in a political party in the United Kingdom, were intensified on Sunday when the Liaison Office issued a strongly-worded statement.

This time, he was criticised for his comments on the sentencing of veteran democrats over two unauthorised assemblies on August 18 and 31 in 2019.

Victoria Park. August 18, 2019.

Victoria Park. August 18, 2019.

In an interview with Stand News, Mr Harris said the sentencing was too harsh. The crackdown on peaceful demonstrations, he pointed out, will lead to people turning to “very damaging channels, which can include violence.”

A spokesperson for the Liaison Office said Harris had “spread distorted opinion, blatantly supported those who violated law, excusing those using violence, smearing law enforcement, and putting pressure on the judiciary.”

“If the Hong Kong Bar Association continues to be manned by foreign politicians who have lost their professional conduct such as Paul Harris, it will only be caught in one’s own trap, and go on a road of no return.”

State-owned newspaper Ta Kung Pao also cited on Monday pro-Beijing figures such as former chief executive Leung Chun-ying and lawmaker Priscilla Leung urging the Bar Association to cut ties with Harris.

The Bar chief is not the only one who expressed dismay at the sentencing and warned of its damaging implications on freedom of assembly, of expression and, even more damaging, social instability.

That his remarks, however, have enraged Beijing and the city’s loyalists is clearly because of his political background. His record in fighting for human rights and long-time connection with international bodies and political activities in the UK have juiced up the conspiracy theory of foreign forces meddling with Hong Kong affairs.

Harris has emerged as a perfect target of attack in the ongoing drive led by the central government and the Hong Kong government to uphold national security.

At a higher political plane, the “down with Harris” movement appears to have a bigger target, namely the Bar Association.

In an article published on April 1, the two pro-Beijing news media, Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po, quoted local political and legal figures as saying the Bar did not meet the criteria of “patriots administering Hong Kong.” Nor were they conducive to good governance, the rule of law and justice in Hong Kong, the report said, without elaborating.

“Residents have reason to ask whether the association’s frequent challenge against the authority of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee and questioning its enactment of the national security law constitutes a breach of the national security law.”

The article questioned for whom the association served and whether it should continue to exist.

It sounds inconceivable that the association representing the city’s barristers will be outlawed. 

But the worsening of ties between the association and the central and Hong Kong governments in recent years is clear.

A member of the Carrie Lam team has also privately branded the association as a “political body,” which he said has made it difficult for them to engage with them. 

Against that background, it is not surprising that the Bar Association was left out in a briefing session held by government officials a few weeks ago for the legal profession about an overhaul of the election system.

Adding more uncertainty to the Bar was a report on Monday night about accusation by the Police against the Civil Human Rights Front of breaching the Societies Ordinance. 

In a Facebook post, the front said its convenor, Figo Chan, received a letter from the force, demanding information on its finances and activities, deepening fears that it could be outlawed.

With key political figures from the pro-democracy arrested, prosecuted and jailed, a new round of attack on associations and groups in the pro-democracy camp seems to have begun in earnest, seeking to further silence the dissenting voices in the society.

This article was first published on Apple Daily website on April 28.

 

 

 

 

 

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A national security storm in two pictures http://www.vohk.hk/2021/04/25/a-national-security-storm-in-two-pictures/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2021/04/25/a-national-security-storm-in-two-pictures/#respond Sun, 25 Apr 2021 02:10:19 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=2203
Apple Daily is accused of spreading fake news by publishing a photo of a national security education day event side by side with one about police brutality at a MTR station.By Chris Yeung — Every picture tells a story. The publication of two pictures makes a storm. The scathing attacks by Hong Kong’s police chief...
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Apple Daily is accused of spreading fake news by publishing a photo of a national security education day event side by side with one about police brutality at a MTR station.

By Chris Yeung —

Every picture tells a story. The publication of two pictures makes a storm. The scathing attacks by Hong Kong’s police chief against the Apple Daily’s publication of two photos – one with pupils playing toy gun and another with alleged police brutality at the Prince Edward MTR station on August 31, 2019 – are a telling case of the weaponisation of the national security law.

Without naming the Apple Daily, Commissioner Chris Tang lambasted certain media for running a picture of the “gun-wielding” pupils side by side with a picture of police officers beating up passengers inside a MTR train. He claimed it was “fake news”, accusing the newspaper for spreading divisiveness and hatred in the society.

Although there is no law on fake news, he said Police were investigating the case and warned they might take those media to court under the existing criminal laws and the national security law.

Tang did not elaborate why the publication of two photos, whose authenticity has not been challenged, with a caption saying netizens have found resemblance of the two could make them a fake.

The simple truth is that Tang is unhappy with the way the newspaper gave an unpalatable, negative spin to the picture of school kids having fun with toy guns at the open day of the Police to mark the city’s first national security education day.

That appears to be a storm in teacup. But the vow of the police chief to penalise the newspaper through fake news law, which is yet to be legislated, and the existing criminal and national security laws has stoked serious fears among journalists and the general populace.

If the same logic applies, anyone who posted the two pictures on social platforms with words linking the kids’ game play with Police’s brutality at the Prince Edward station might be backfired.

And any media outlet publishing pictures of Police brutality (there is no shortage of those photos and video footages) may face accusations of inciting public hatred towards the Police and divisiveness between them and the people.

There is no doubt Tang was targeting the Apple Daily. He said the Police have lodged more than 130 complaints to the newspaper against what they call inaccurate reports, sensational reporting, misleading headlines and the like.

But a complaint is a complaint is a complaint. Any complaint without a ruling by an independent party remains a complaint. The best judge of dubious, substandard and unethical reporting is always the public. Any media organisation that keeps telling lies and being unethical will be deserted by readers.

That the Police chief has muddled the issue of handling of stories by the media with so-called fake news shows a lack of basic understanding about the media. Worse, Tang has warned of invoking criminal law and the national security law to punish those who published fake news. 

His remarks gave more credence to fears that the national security law might become a weapon to suppress dissenting views even though it is a matter of how the media picks and displays photos.

Speaking at a press conference on July 1 last year when the national security law took effect, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Article 4 of the national security law has guaranteed that people of Hong Kong should be able to continue to enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of the press, of publication, protest, assembly and so on.

Conviction of RTHK producer Bao Choy deals a body blow to press freedom.

Conviction of RTHK producer Bao Choy deals a body blow to press freedom.

Nearly 10 months on, the threats posed by the national security law on freedoms have proved to be sweeping and profound. Books written by some pro-democracy activists including Joshua Wong had been removed from shelves at public libraries. An activist is facing charges under the national security law for speeches he made at public places. The list goes on.

Tang picked the worst example of fake news when he fingered at the two genuine photos. But he managed to give the best example of how the notion of fake news could be used as a weapon by those with power to gag the press.

This article was first published on Apple Daily website on April 21.

 

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Rule by coercive power not Hong Kong way http://www.vohk.hk/2021/04/18/rule-by-coercive-power-not-hong-kong-way/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2021/04/18/rule-by-coercive-power-not-hong-kong-way/#respond Sun, 18 Apr 2021 03:17:48 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=2199
Protest shopping at AboutThai retail shop.By Chris Yeung — Last Sunday (April 11) morning, Hong Kong people woke up to be told by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung that the...
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Protest shopping at AboutThai retail shop.

By Chris Yeung —

Last Sunday (April 11) morning, Hong Kong people woke up to be told by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung that the city is back to what it had been. It is too good to be true.

Speaking in RTHK’s Letter to Hong Kong, he said the rule of law and judicial independence remain solid and strong. “So, too, are our basic rights and freedoms, including the freedom of speech, of the press, publication, association, assembly, procession and demonstration.

“In short, Hong Kong has largely reverted to the safe, rational, inclusive and vibrant society it has long been celebrated for. The Hong Kong that we all know and love.” 

To many Hongkongers, the city is no longer the same we all know. A new era has begun with the seemingly end of the anti-extradition bill protest, followed by the enactment of national security law and an overhaul of the election system.

A string of events in the past few days has spoken of the new normal of the use of coercive power and disproportionate and dubious exercise of power in law enforcement by the Government. It raises disturbing questions about whether Hong Kong remains a free and just society.

On Thursday, the Customs Department held a series of coordinated raids on outlets of a Hong Kong retail chain, AboutThai, whose founder is accused of breaking the city’s draconian national security laws.

Customs officials insist the raids were carried out in connection with missing safety warnings on cleaning products. Reporters from various media have conducted similar checks in some retail chain and found items with missing safety warnings. The customs authorities have not yet given an explanation on why there were no raids on other retail shops, sparking claims that the operation was politically motivated.

Public anger towards the Government sparked protests in the form of snapping up AboutThai products. There were long queues at the chain’s outlets in different parts of the city over the weekend in a small-scale outburst of the deeply-rooted public discontent with the Carrie Lam administration.

It is an unambiguous sign of the lingering tension and distrust between the Government and the citizens heightened during the social movement that has never been eased.

And with the dearth of mutual trust, the Government’s move to adopt coercive means to boost the number of participants of the vaccination programme is likely to backfire, further eroding public trust and support for the Government.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Mrs Lam sought to give a boost to the vaccination programme by offering further easing of social distancing restrictions under certain conditions. All staff and customers should have been inoculated against Covid-19; and that all customers start using the government’s LeaveHomeSafe exposure notification app.

Lam said there were more than 3.7 million times of download of the app and that the information written down by some customers at restaurants were not accurate. She said she did not understand why people refused to use the app. She denied the Government has reversed their stance, putting pressure on the public to instal the LeaveHomeSafe app now.

Lam may genuinely feel relaxed about the download of a government app. But the truth is the Government has suffered from a deficit of trust among the populace. Regardless of the government efforts seeking to allay public jitters about the app could be misused by the Government to conduct surveillance of the people in our society.

Government steps up propaganda for mass vaccinations.

Government steps up propaganda for mass vaccinations.

Their fears are not without ground in view of the fact that the Government has not been able to put to the people a strong and convincing case – with data and evidence – of the merits and the vital importance of the exposure notification app.

By claiming there were more than 3.7 million downloads, Lam is attempting to put pressure on the remaining people to take the same side with the majority.

Cases relating to the AboutThai and the new app contrast oddly with the government’s avowed goal of building a free society. One of the basic rights of people in a free society is choices, namely the right of not to get vaccinated and not to adopt the LeaveHomeSafe app. 

 There are multiple reasons behind the lukewarm public response towards the vaccination scheme and their unwillingness of using the LeaveHomeSafe app. 

But by turning them into conditions for a further relaxation of social distance rules, the Government has effectively given up efforts in digging deeper into the public psyche to find out a more benevolent way of converting doubters into supporters, not forcing them to become an enemy.

This article was first published on Apple Daily website on April 14.

 

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National security law targets small, but hits big http://www.vohk.hk/2021/04/04/national-security-law-targets-small-but-hits-big/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2021/04/04/national-security-law-targets-small-but-hits-big/#respond Sun, 04 Apr 2021 03:04:32 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=2191
This year's Oscars will not be broadcast live,By Chris Yeung — Hong Kong is increasingly ruled by lies. The promise of “one country, two systems” has been proved to be damn lies....
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This year's Oscars will not be broadcast live,

By Chris Yeung —

Hong Kong is increasingly ruled by lies. The promise of “one country, two systems” has been proved to be damn lies. An overhaul of the electoral system aimed to “improve” is anything but an improvement. A string of events unfolded after the Hong Kong national security law took effect shows the assurance that the law would only target “a very small number of people” is another piece of lies.

Flashed back to June last year, Chief Executive Carrie Lam and his top aides and central government officials were at pains to put the hearts of Hongkongers at ease when it imposed a national security law in the city.

To allay their jitters, they assured the law would only affect “a very small number of people” and that the freedoms and lifestyles of the rest would not be adversely affected.

Nine months on, the enormity of the damaging power of the draconian law is widely felt across all strata of the society. 

At the brunt of the attack, the pro-democracy camp has almost been shattered. A total of 47 democrats representing different generations and in different shades of colour are being charged with subversion. Most have their applications for bail being turned down.

It had been thought that they were the tiny number of people on the target of the national security law. Yes and no.

True, they have emerged as the biggest batch of people being taken to court for subversion-related charges.

But the deterrent and chilling effects of the law have been turned into a lethal weapon to curb freedoms of expression, speech and the press. Cases are aplenty.

Fully funded by the Government and run by government appointees, the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) has become a target of attack by pro-Beijing media and pro-establishment political figures in the past fortnight.

At the bone of contention is a collection of works by mainland dissident artist Ai Weiwei, in particular a serial with the middle finger pointing at various symbols of power including Tiananmen Square. The artworks were condemned as an insult to China and have allegedly breached the national security law.

WKCD chairman Henry Tang Ying-yen said on Monday he was not a legal expert. But if the mainland’s national security office in Hong Kong considered any collections at the district a violation of the national security law, Tang said they would handle it in accordance with the law.

Tang spoke as if the mainland’s national security arm would have the power to decide what artworks would be allowed to be shown in the cultural complex.

In another sign of the sharply deteriorating free environment, Hong Kong audiences will not be able to watch the live broadcasts of the Oscars for the first time in 52 years. TVB, which has broadcast the star-studded event every year since 1969 on its English language channel, said they decided not to pursue the Oscars this year. It was described as “purely a commercial decision.”

Bloomberg News reported earlier this month that China’s Communist Party propaganda department has ordered its state-controlled media to play down the awards and not show the ceremony live.

NSLCE2019

The cause is believed to be the nomination of “Do Not Split”, a short documentary on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, as well as the four nods for Chinese-born US director Chloe Zhao for “Nomadland”.

That no local broadcasters dare to venture into the political minefield is indicative of the prevailing air of political censorship in the field of media and the rapidly-blurred line between the mainland and Hong Kong.

Already off the air also included a list of RTHK television programmes, which were pulled out by a new editorial panel chaired by its newly-appointed head Patrick Li Pak-chuen.

They included an episode about the failure of students at seven out of eight government-funded universities to form their unions in the current semester year. Chinese University has an elected union cabinet resigned en masse after they announced a withdrawal of their election manifesto. The university has severed ties with the cabinet-elect, saying their manifesto may breach the national security law.

No official reason was given on the decision not to run the show as scheduled.

The M+ row, no-Oscars saga and RTHK serial of programme cuts are highly unusual episodes, but now the new normal in Hong Kong with the national security law sending chilling air and nurturing the virus of censorship in the city.

The original intent of the national security law may merely target the few, but it has not hit everyone.

 

This article was first published on Apple Daily website on March 31.

 

 

 

 

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Cultural Revolution-style attacks dim cultural hub vision http://www.vohk.hk/2021/03/28/cultural-revolution-style-attacks-dim-cultural-hub-vision/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2021/03/28/cultural-revolution-style-attacks-dim-cultural-hub-vision/#respond Sun, 28 Mar 2021 06:31:32 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=2186
Dissident artist Ai Weiwei's 'middle finger' challenge against authority has allegedly crossed the 'red line.'By Chris Yeung  — First it was books written by pro-democracy activists including jailed young democrat Joshua Wong collected at public libraries. Then came pre-colonial...
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Dissident artist Ai Weiwei's 'middle finger' challenge against authority has allegedly crossed the 'red line.'

By Chris Yeung  —

First it was books written by pro-democracy activists including jailed young democrat Joshua Wong collected at public libraries. Then came pre-colonial exhibits in a government history museum. They are among the political sensitive items that went missing in government venues after the Hong Kong national security law took effect on July 1 last year.

A collection of works by dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei at M+ Museum, which is aimed to rival Western contemporary star museums like London’s Tate Modern and New York’s MoMA, may become another victim of censorship amidst fears about the draconian law.

Even before M+ is scheduled to be open by the end of this year, Ai Weiwei’s works have already emerged as a target of Cultural Revolution-style attacks launched by pro-Beijing media and political figures.

This is despite the fact that none of Ai’s works have been scheduled for public viewing at the 60,000-square metres venue. They may never be publicly shown.

Call it Cultural Revolution 2.0.

Salvos were fired at M+ on the following day after a media preview held by the museum early this month. DotDotNews, a bilingual online platform with China backing, said in a commentary made a scathing attack against M+.

It accused the museum of having collected a massive number of items that “challenge national dignity, insult national heroes, ignore the bottomline of social morality, degradate religion and spread pedagogical consciousness.”

At a Chief Executive question time last week, New People Party’s Eunice Yung asked Carrie Lam: “ Many of the pieces are spreading hatred against the country… Will the government censor the collection? What will the government do to prevent such provocation of anti-China sentiments?”

In response, Lam reiterated Hong Kong “respects the freedom of cultural and artistic expression.” But she warned authorities would be on “full alert” for any breaches of the security law.

Lam argued the line between freedom of expression in arts and cultural creativity and the spread of hatred, sabotage of national security “is clearly recognisable.”

But she refrained from commenting whether works singled out for attack by Yung belonged to which side of the red line.

Carrie Lam, who had been directly involved with the M+ exhibits, features in the real-life West Kowloon palace power .struggle.

Carrie Lam, who had been directly involved with the M+ exhibits, features in the real-life West Kowloon palace power .struggle.

Lam’s remarks did not stop the pro-Beijing newspapers, which are backed by the Central Government’s Liaison Office, from making further attacks on M+.

That could not be more ridiculous and intriguing.

M+ is an integral part of the multi-billion-dollar West Kowloon Cultural District, which was initiated by the city’s first chief executive Tung Chee-hwa in 1988. It is wholly funded by the Government and had been directly overseen by Lam for a long period of time in the past two decades.

Its current council chairman Henry Tang Ying-yen was appointed by Lam. And its acting chief executive officer Betty Ching is one the few top officials who has the ears of Lam.

Accusations against M+ for allegedly breaching the national security law in regards to its artworks collections from official media are almost unthinkable.

But it did happen and is seemingly unstoppable. On Monday, the Chinese-language Wen Wei Po continued to give prominent coverage to items being collected at M+ which they claimed have not just had “anti-China” contents, but also child pornography and indecency. It quoted political and community figures as saying the museum should not arrange showings of those items after it is opened.

One of the works by Ai Weiwei being named by Yung for attacks features the rising of the middle finger in front of the Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Yung called for a ban saying it is an insult to the nation. What she has not said or may not know is that Ai has similar works with the middle figures pointing at similar symbols of other countries as a show of challenge against authority.

Symbolic it is, the posed gesture has not just been deemed as an insult, but a possible breach of provisions in the national security law. It is yet another telling case of how the law has been “weaponised” to suppress dissenting views.

No officials from the Home Affairs Bureau, which oversees culture, and the West Kowloon Cultural District have come out to directly respond to the criticism against M+. Undoubtedly, this is because of the official background of Wen Wei Po and DotDotNews.

And as Lam and her aides seem to have kept silent, another set of artworks looks likely to remain being kept in dark places with censorship and self-censorship worsening.

This article was first published on Apple Daily website on March 24.

 

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Days of Civil Human Rights Front numbered http://www.vohk.hk/2021/03/21/days-of-civil-human-rights-front-numbered/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2021/03/21/days-of-civil-human-rights-front-numbered/#respond Sun, 21 Mar 2021 01:44:34 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=2174
A rally organised by the Civil Human Rights Front in Hong Kong Island.By Chris Yeung — Formed in the heyday of the 2003 July 1 march, the fate of the Civil Human Rights Front, an umbrella body...
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A rally organised by the Civil Human Rights Front in Hong Kong Island.

By Chris Yeung —

Formed in the heyday of the 2003 July 1 march, the fate of the Civil Human Rights Front, an umbrella body composed of pro-democracy groups, is in the balance following the departure of several major group members. Like it or not, its days seem to be numbered. Ta Kung Pao called on the Government to ban the body, which is reportedly not an officially registered body.

Media reports quoted sources as saying the Democratic Party, the flagship of the democratic camp, decided to quit the pro-democracy coalition. They followed the footsteps of the Professional Teachers’ Union who announced their departure on Sunday after considering the “recent political situation.”

The Neighbourhood and Workers Service Centre was the first to quit, one day after a Singaporean newspaper reported on March 5 that the front would be targeted by the Hong Kong government and might be outlawed. Other groups that left include Neo Democrats, the Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood, the Civic Party and the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese.

Media reports said the front is being investigated for, perhaps among others, being supported by the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, funded by the United States Congress.

The NED was said to have provided financial assistance to the front for staging certain events, an act which could constitute an offence under the national security law imposed on Hong Kong in late June last year. The law is supposed to have no retroactive power. The NED funding has not been officially confirmed.

But at a time when dozens of democrats are facing charges ranging from national security to unauthorised assembly, many of their organisations do not want to take more risk. 

Severing ties or distancing from the pro-democracy coalition will no doubt deal a body blow to solidarity and morale. But the immediate challenge they face is survival from the ongoing political crackdown.

Media reports said the front has a total of more than 40 pro-democracy groups, including major political parties, unions and human rights groups. 

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Thanks to the government debacle of Basic Law Article 23 legislative work in 2003, the front was formed in the wake of the

500,000-strong protest on July 1, providing a platform for the pro-democracy groups to hold rallies. It has played the leading role in holding the two annual protests on July 1 and the New Year’s Day since then.

Given its nature of being a loosely-composed coalition for major rallies, it is not surprising that it is not well-organised. In

revealing the police investigation, a Singapore newspaper said the front has not registered with the government and its finance is not well-managed.

Apparently, the Government has turned a blind eye to the unique background of the front. Ironically, key figures of the front had closely worked with the Police on the security arrangements during the rallies since 2003 until the recent years when relations grew tense.

Claims that the operation of the front without government registration could provide a good reason for the Government to conduct a full investigation into the pro-democracy body that has triggered the withdrawal or suspension of groups from the coalition.

The political and legal risk of the front to keep its operation will now be high. The front said they have written to all member groups for them to consider their membership. It should not come as a surprise that more may quit.

The imminent demise of the front will signify the end of an era of the city’s democratic development spearheaded by pro-democracy political parties and civil society groups loosely held together by the front since 2003.

Although various political and social groups had different demands in the annual July 1 and New Year’s Day rallies, the front had helped rally them together under the same theme banner and slogan.

The central role of the front in rallies had already faced challenge in the 2014 Umbrella Movement when protesters taking the lead themselves in the 79-day movement being likened as a “leaderless movement.”

Its role in the 2019 anti-extradition bill protest had also been further marginalised. But still, the front has a role, both symbolic and substantive, in the city’s democratic movement by organising rallies.

In the face of a seemingly attack on the front, the possibility of a break-up is no longer remote.

With all major pro-democracy political parties being crippled by lawsuits and the threats of being kicked out from the district councils and disqualified from joining elections, their capability of forming a new coalition similar to the front for organising mass rallies is questionable.

The democrats no longer have a choice. The previous mode of fighting for democracy in an organised and big-bang manner is no longer feasible and practicable.

Breaking up into parts with each group and individual fighting their own battles seems to be the only way out to keep the light of democracy in darkness.

This article was first published on Apple Daily website on March 17 with slight revision.

 

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A city of dreadful silence with opposition silenced http://www.vohk.hk/2021/03/14/a-city-of-dreadful-silence-with-opposition-silenced/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2021/03/14/a-city-of-dreadful-silence-with-opposition-silenced/#respond Sun, 14 Mar 2021 03:09:42 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=2169
A group of 47 democrats are facing charges of subversion.By Chris Yeung — Flashed back to the midnight of June 30, 1997, a group of democratic lawmakers stood at the balcony of the former...
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A group of 47 democrats are facing charges of subversion.

By Chris Yeung —

Flashed back to the midnight of June 30, 1997, a group of democratic lawmakers stood at the balcony of the former Legislative Council, now home of the Court of Final Appeal, vowing “we will be back.”

Among them were the founding chairman of the Democratic Party, Martin Lee Chu-ming, and James To Kun-sun, the then youngest legislator and the most senior legislator before he resigned to protest against Beijing’s decision to oust four pro-democracy legislators last year.

They were forced to stand down from the legislature following the breakdown of Sino-British talks on the transition of the legislature due to a sharp discord over electoral reforms spearheaded by last governor Chris Patten.

One year later, they did return to the Legislative Council – and with a bang. The Democratic Party became the biggest political party in Legco, having grabbed 13 of the total 20 geographical constituency seats.

Two decades on, the Democrats, though still seen as the pro-democratic flagship, and all other like-minded groups in the pro-democracy camp, are fighting for their survival.

Lee, 83, Hong Kong’s most senior barrister, will have to defend himself against charges of participating in an “unauthorised assembly”. To was among a group of over 50 democrats arrested for organising and joining a Legco primary election in July last year. 47 were formally charged with subversion last week. To is still being investigated.

Lo Kin-hei, the newly-elected chairman of the Democrats, said they are still undecided on whether to participate in elections.

Lo’s predecessor, Wu Chi-wai, is among the 47 now being held in custody. Among them are a list of young rising stars in the pro-democracy camp, who shot to fame during the 2019 social movement. They face the grim reality of long years of imprisonment if convicted.

Even if they survive from the draconian law, they look certain to be blocked from running for elections under a set of changes to the electoral system scheduled to be adopted at the end of an annual plenum of the Chinese National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing.

Details of the electoral changes are still unclear by Monday night. According to media reports, the number of geographical constituency seats will be reduced from 30 to 20. The number of Election Committee members will be increased from 1,200 to 1,500. Currently, the 1,200-member body is formed by four sectors, with 300 for each.

The extra 300 members will become the fifth sector, with members coming from local deputies to NPC and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and “patriotic bodies” representing women, youth and overseas Chinese and the like. 

In addition to the role of electing the chief executive, the Election Committee will be given the extra role of electing a substantial number of legislators, or 30 to 40, according to various media reports. Importantly, the expanded body will be vested with the power to nominate candidates standing for direct polls.

The new nominating mechanism could become a tool to block anyone from standing for elections.

The dream of political aspirants seeking to win the mandate of the people through democratic elections to sit in the legislature has already been shattered following the mass prosecution against the democrats. The overhaul of the electoral system will set a blockade on the path of the city’s democratic development.

With the power of the national security law in suppressing political dissent widely felt, the imminent overhaul of the electoral system will pose a serious question to any democrats.

Put simply, it is a question of “to run or not to run.” Does it still make sense for the democrats to fight from within the Legco, knowing that they may not even be able to get one-third of seats while doing so could justify the unfair election system? But if they give up the electoral battle, are they prepared to resort to street politics?

Will democrats have to return to the streets to fight for democracy?

Will democrats have to return to the streets to fight for democracy?

Loyalists have sought to convince the democrats they still have a future in politics as long as they reposition themselves as “loyal opposition,” presumably meaning they do not cross the “red lines”. 

But judging from the list of democrats being prosecuted and arrested since last year, almost anyone carrying the flag of democracy could be deemed as “not being loyal.”

Noting the democrats could no longer function as an effective opposition, former head of the now-disbanded Central Policy Unit, Shiu Sin-por, has warned of an “overkill” in the electoral revamp. He did not elaborate.

Just imagine a city run by “loyal patriots” with dissenting voices sideline, if not gone, being replaced by a dreadful sound of silence.

This article was first published on Apple Daily on March 10.

 

 

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Patriotism could make elections ugly http://www.vohk.hk/2021/03/07/patriotism-could-make-elections-ugly/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2021/03/07/patriotism-could-make-elections-ugly/#respond Sun, 07 Mar 2021 01:48:43 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=2163
Patriots are to run Hong Kong under an election overhaul.By Chris Yeung — Dubbed as an ultra-leftist, Shiu Sin-por, a close confidante of former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, is not known for liberal views...
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Patriots are to run Hong Kong under an election overhaul.

By Chris Yeung —

Dubbed as an ultra-leftist, Shiu Sin-por, a close confidante of former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, is not known for liberal views over such political issues as the electoral system and the strategy towards the democrats in Hong Kong.

He raised some eyebrows on Sunday (February 28) when he warned of an “overkill” in Beijing’s move to rewrite the city’s electoral arrangements for the chief executive and the Legislative Council.

Shiu, who was head of the now-disbanded Central Policy Unit under the Leung administration, was speaking at a session chaired by Xia Baolong, Director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Shenzhen at the weekend. 

The closed-door session was held to tap the brains of people whom Beijing trusts on how to overhaul the electoral system to ensure those who run Hong Kong are “patriots.”

In his remarks, Shiu said the pro-democracy force has already become crippled after the national security law took effect, followed by a series of “actions,” with democrats being jailed, having fled and quit politics.

Democrats, he said, could no longer pose strong resistance against the authorities. He urged the central authorities not to “overkill” when revamping the electoral systems.

Shiu did not elaborate. But it is abundantly clear that the order dictated by President Xi Jinping to redefine the policy of “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” to become “patriots running Hong Kong” has been taken to the extreme, posing the danger of an overkill.

抗爭派-20200715231222_77df_large

With the rules of the electoral game now open for a rewrite, the past few weeks saw a boom of ideas loaded with selfishness and madness in the name of “patriots governing Hong Kong.”

They include selecting the chief executive by consultations, not election, mooted by Leung Chun-ying. Proponents of the idea questioned the wisdom of giving every Hong Kong citizen a ballot for them to cast a vote of defiance against Beijing in elections.

Leung asked why not, citing both the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law say the Chief Executive shall be selected by election or consultation.

The so-called “consultation theory” was echoed by his close confidantes and newspapers backed by the central government’s Liaison Office. It was flatly rebuked by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and his top adviser in the Executive Council, Bernard Chan. Former chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, Tsang Yok-sing, has also cast doubts about the merits of Leung’s idea.

But the tussle within Leung and Lam seems to be short-lived. The focus of the revamp of the electoral system under the guiding principle of “patriots running Hong Kong” now centres on the formation of the Election Committee for the Chief Executive election and the Legislative Council.

Speaking on the first of the two-day session in Shenzhen, Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, a former member of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee and Legco president, gave her backing to the idea of stripping the right of district councillors in electing among themselves more than 110 representatives in the 1,200-strong Election Committee. The five functional constituency seats being elected by all district councillors to the Legco should also be abolished, she said.

Held just days before the NPC is set to pass a set of amendments to the city’s electoral system in its annual session scheduled to begin on Friday, the ideas floated by Mrs Fan at the Shenzhen meeting seems to have the blessing of Beijing.

But even stripping the role of district councillors in electing the chief executive and five Legco seats is no doubt not enough to meet the appetite of Beijing, who wants absolute control over the Chief Executive and Legco elections.

One line of thinking floated at the Shenzhen meeting was to give a bigger role to the local deputies to the NPC and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in both elections. Given the fact that the Liaison Office is vested with enormous powers in the composition of the NPC and CPPCC, the idea will effectively give greater powers to the Liaison Office in the city’s two major elections.

Under a system masterminded by Beijing, the room for the democrats will be drastically reduced, if there is any at all.

It is difficult to ascertain the motives of Shiu in his uncharacteristic call for restraint. But regardless of his motives, an overkill of electoral revamp is obvious. When patriotism is being used as a tool to grab seats and to rob a fair chance of others with dissenting views in polls, both patriotism and election will look cheap and ugly.

This article was first published on Apple Daily website on March 3.

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‘Patriots’, not Hongkongers, to run Hong Kong http://www.vohk.hk/2021/02/27/patriots-not-hongkongers-to-run-hong-kong/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2021/02/27/patriots-not-hongkongers-to-run-hong-kong/#respond Sat, 27 Feb 2021 18:08:02 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=2154
Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong leaders showcases patriotism in promoting mainland-made vaccines.By Chris Yeung — With the pro-democracy camp already being torn into pieces, Beijing’s move to revamp the city’s election system to ensure “patriots ruling...
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Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong leaders showcases patriotism in promoting mainland-made vaccines.

By Chris Yeung —

With the pro-democracy camp already being torn into pieces, Beijing’s move to revamp the city’s election system to ensure “patriots ruling Hong Kong” is putting the last nail in the coffin – and the “one country, two systems” policy itself to rest.

To ensure most, or perhaps, all seats in the Legislative Council and District Council going to those they considered as patriots, Beijing, as they have indicated clearly, will lead the task of formulating the election system. 

It makes mockery of the pledge of “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong”, which, together with “high degree of autonomy”, form the integral parts of the policy of keeping two systems under the tenet of one country.

It is also not in line with the mechanism under the Basic Law for changes to the electoral arrangements for the chief executive and the legislature. In short, both the chief executive and the legislature have a role in the existing process of political reform.

But now, Beijing will have the sole power of dictating the electoral arrangements for both Legco and district councils.

First floated through the pro-establishment circle in the past two months, Beijing stepped up the propaganda of the principle of “patriots ruling Hong Kong” in the past week featuring an avalanche of publicity in official media including Xinhua news agency and pro-Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong .

HKMAO head Xia Baolung gives directives on 'Patriots to govern Hong Kong.' - Picture taken From DAB Facebook.

HKMAO head Xia Baolung gives directives on ‘Patriots to govern Hong Kong.’ – Picture taken From DAB Facebook.

On Monday, head of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Xia Baolong, gave a speech at a closed door seminar hosted by a think-tank affiliated to his office.

Referring to the pro-democracy force, he said those who “oppose China and disrupt Hong Kong” were able to exert their influence in the city in the past. Xia argued that is because the principle of letting patriots rule Hong Kong was not fully implemented.

The most pressing issue now, he said, is to refine the election system and “plug the legal loopholes,” without specifying.

The reform must be led by the central government, he said, adding they will communicate with the SAR government and listen to the views of people from all walks of life.

Xia’s pledge does not hold the water. Despite rife speculation about the imminent drastic change of the electoral system, the central authorities have neither confirmed the move, let alone giving a hint of what the changes are and their timetable.

One can only make a guess that Xi’s speech is aimed at paving the way for the tabling of a resolution on the changes of the electoral system through an amendment of the relevant provisions in the Basic Law at the upcoming National People’s Congress plenum. The session is scheduled to be opened on March 5.

First mooted by late patriarch Deng Xiaoping at a meeting with Basic Law drafters in the 1980s, the notion of “patriots ruling Hong Kong” has not been stipulated in the post-1997 constitution for obvious reasons. It is not a well-defined notion, which could be conveniently interpreted to target people with dissenting views.

Now that the democrats have been kicked out from Legco and a fresh round of oustings of democrats at the 18 district councils looks imminent, Beijing lost no time to change the game rules to block those they deem as “non-patriots” from sitting on the two councils.

That seems to be a mission impossible only made possible by distorting the meaning of election.

The figures speak for themselves. With no exception in all previous Legco elections, the pan-democrats have snapped out a majority of votes cast in geographical constituency elections. 

It is unthinkable that voters will now heed the advice of Beijing to shun the democrats and cast their votes on candidates deemed as patriots.  The opposite is true. Pro-China labelling will be even a bigger liability to “patriot” candidates in the next elections.

Instead of holding out hopes that the pro-establishment camp will win the ballots, Beijing has decided the best way to secure the seats for the patriots is for them to control the elections through the exercise of their absolute powers.

They will possibly involve political screening of candidates during the nomination period and another “patriotism testing” of candidates who win the polls.

In a nutshell, the changes to the electoral system tipped to be unveiled soon look set to be a big shock and a fatal blow to the “one country, two systems” policy. Worse, Beijing no longer seems to care.

This article was first published on Apple Daily website on Feb. 23.

 

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