Monday, 30 July 2018

Is Freedom of Speech in Hong Kong Eroding?

Last weekend a few hundred people marched for freedom of expression
A former lawmaker has warned that if the police go ahead and ban the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party, it will be a major setback for freedom of speech in Hong Kong.

Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee questions how speaking to the media and hosting street booths constitute an "imminent threat" to national security, as police suggested last month.

The party, co-founded by Andy Chan Ho-tin, is fighting back, demanding to know whether there was any communication between the Security Bureau and the police before sending the letter to the party in which it gave the deadline of August 7 to explain to the security minister why it should not be banned. Along with the demand was 800 pages of documents and transcripts of Chan's speeches.

Margaret Ng says the HKNP has done nothing wrong
That's a lot of material considering the party has only been around for two years and isn't very active.

As a result the HKNP is trying to find out if the government originally ordered the force to study the option of a ban.

The bureau is looking into legal advice... which means it's getting very complicated...

The HKNP is also asking the police to hand over all of its surveillance records on Chan, audio and video, and the police says it is following up on the request.

Ng says the party hasn't done anything to stir up national security concerns.

"All of the [actions] police were arguing about were talking, giving interviews, handing out leaflets. All of these fall under freedom of speech, assembly, expression and association. I can't see how these actions have threatened national security throughout the 800 pages," said Ng. "This is a matter of common sense. No one could possibly think these would result in an imminent threat."

The authorities give the HKNP until August 7 to justify itself
She also adds the government is using similar tactics to the central government in cracking down on peaceful dissidents.

Ng cited the example of how late Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo was found guilty of subversion and jailed for nearly nine years for advocating constitutional reform in China.

"Maybe Liu was more articulate in his theory, but all he and Chan did was talk. The city's government has now used the same tactics from the mainland to curb freedom of expression in Hong Kong," said Ng, a member of the Civic Party.

She has represented the legal sector in the Legislative Council for 18 years until 2012, and has been fighting for democracy and human rights. Ng added even the colonial government didn't resort to banning groups on the grounds of what they advocated.

"We now have even less freedom of speech and association than under the [city's former] colonial government. I think it's a dead shame and sends a very bad message to the world," she said. "If Chan continues to speak in an individual capacity, then there is no other way to control him -- so then what is the point of banning the HKNP?"

Liu Xiaobo also only talked about ideas and was jailed
Even if the power for police to ban a group had long existed in the Societies Ordinance, it did not mean the government had to use it," she added.

An example she gave was Britain's Treason Felony Act of 1848, that makes it a criminal offence, punishable by life imprisonment, for people to advocate the abolition of the monarchy, even by peaceful means. But the act has not been used in Britain since 1883.

Last Saturday only a few hundred people came out to protest the heavy-handed approach towards the HKNP, probably due to the public's lack of interest in the pro-independence group that seems amateur.

But Ng says this is not the point -- while she and other pan-democrats may not agree with the HKNP's pro-independence ideas, the concern is freedom of speech is being threatened and they fear  they are using Chan as a first test case.

"Hongkongers might not have democracy, but we can't do without freedom of speech, so don't underestimate us," she said.

The Hong Kong government is hoping we don't get behind the HKNP so we don't notice how hard it has cracked down on the party -- that isn't even registered.

It's unfortunate this amateur party has been singled out, but we must defend its right to speak out.

Footnote: On July 31, the security bureau gave the HKNP another 28 days to file its claim, with the new deadline on September 4.

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