What’s happening while Hong Kong awaits new CE John Lee and his priority of passing Article 23 local National Security laws?
Activist Benny Tai pleads guilty to ‘illegal election spending’ – placing ads advising the public on tactical voting to boost pro-dem candidates’ chances in 2016. Pleading not guilty (the ads were surely just an expression of opinion) would have run the risk of a much harsher sentence. He is already in jail awaiting prosecution for helping organize a primary election.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association is considering disbandment. Not disbanding exposes the group’s leaders and members to risk of arrest on ‘national security’ or ‘sedition’ charges, with no hope of bail.
The deputy head of the widely respected Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute suddenly leaves the city. He suggests he is subject to intimidation here.
Another sudden departure as pro-Beijing media hound human rights lawyer Michael Vidler at the airport as he leaves Hong Kong just days after announcing closure of his law firm. As happened to former Bar Association head Paul Harris a couple of months back.
As a reminder of what happens when you courageously stand fast, former Tiananmen vigil organizers Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho and Chow Hang-tung (all now in jail) appear in court in connection with ‘incitement to subversion’ charges – but restrictions prevent the media from reporting any details.
All of which sets the scene for the Foreign Correspondents Club’s cancellation of its annual Human Rights Press Awards for fear of unknowable repercussions from the NatSec authorities. Nominations included work by Stand News, which was subject to a raid, arrests for ‘sedition’ and shutdown last December.
Many prominent and principled journalists resign from the Club’s Press Freedom Committee in protest, and onlookers ask what’s the point of the FCC still existing? If it comes to that, what is/would be the point of the HKJA, HKPORI, Vidler and Co Solicitors or Stand News existing?
This is Hong Kong freedom of expression in microcosm: self-censor or potentially suffer.
This is not about the FCC trying to keep its nice club house (it will no doubt be ejected when the government lease comes up at the end of the year); it’s a case of ‘shut up or be shut up’. It sounds easy to say ‘take a stand’, but perhaps it’s not so simple if you’re an individual likely to be arrested for ‘collusion with foreign forces’ or ‘sedition’ and denied bail for a year before being sent before a specially picked judge, where only an idiot would plead ‘not guilty’, and the decent defence lawyers have left town.
(Maybe just routine – but meanwhile, HK University is accepting applications for FCC President Keith Richburg’s media-studies job.)