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What has Hong Kong lost one year after the National Security Law was enacted?

Image from the Stand News. Used with permission.

The following post is the English translation of a Chinese report published by the Stand News on July 1, 2021. It is published on Global Voices under a content partnership agreement. 

The Beijing imposed National Security Law (NSL) came into effect in Hong Kong about one year ago, on June 30, 2021. 

Prior to its enactment, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam assured that the NSL would not affect Hongkongers’ long-enjoyed rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression and the right to protest.

But one year later, Hongkongers have lost the right to attend public protests and assemblies;  Apple Daily, Hong Kong's largest pro-democracy publication has been shut down; and numerous civic groups have been dissolved. 

Yet, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam told a different story and praised the achievement of the NSL through her Facebook Page on its anniversary of enactment:

事實擺在眼前,香港擺脫了黑暴橫行、人心惶惶的社會動亂,廣大市民可恢復依法享有他們的自由和人權,而特區的抗疫工作也可走出暴力對抗、泛政治化的困局。

The fact is Hong Kong has got rid of violent protests and social unrest. The general public can enjoy their freedom and rights according to the law. The SAR government’s anti-pandemic work has stepped out of the predicament of violent confrontation and politicization.

On the other hand, professor Chung Kim-wah, a Hong Kong social scientist, told the Stand News in an interview that the NSL has caused ‘all-round damage’ to Hong Kong. He stressed that the effects of the NSL have been drastic as many international institutions and their capital had left, thousands of people have emigrated and a widespread campaign of social unrest has emerged within the city.

Freedom of assembly

July 1 is the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China. In the past, the government would organize activities to celebrate the historical moment while the Civil Human Right Front, typically led a rally to demonstrate people's discontent. The 2003 July 1 rally drew half a million protestors. 

Last year, the police banned the annual July 1 rally on the grounds of epidemic control. Although a large number of people still rallied in the streets on that day, 370 people were arrested and 10 were accused of violating the NSL, including a motorcyclist, Tang Ying Kit, who was charged with inciting subversion for displaying a slogan: ‘Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of time’. 

The annual June 4 candlelight vigil in Victoria Park has also been banned by the Hong Kong police for two consecutive years on the grounds of epidemic control. Last year, before the NSL was enacted, people spontaneously gathered in various districts to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. This year, the police arrested  activist Chow Hang Tung on June 4 and deployed a large number of police officers to stop people from entering Victoria Park and having public gatherings. 

Chow was arrested again one day before July 1 this year. The police accused her of ‘inciting others to knowingly and unlawfully participate in an unauthorized assembly’.

Rights to participate in elections

The largest prosecution since the implementation of the NSL has been the subversion charge against 47 pro-democracy activists for their participation in the primary elections. They were officially charged at the end of February this year and 35 of them have been in custody for over four months.

Regardless of the result of trials, it is likely that Hongkongers will not have the chance to vote for them in future elections. After the 2020 Legislative Council election was halted by the government on the grounds of epidemic control, Beijing handed down an instruction to  ‘improve the electoral system’. As a result, the election law was amended with a candidate screening mechanism and a loyalty pledge requirement. The new system will make it very difficult for Democrats to enter the legislature in the future.

The government will likely outlaw calls for election boycotts, casting blank or invalid ballots, or deliberately obstructing others from voting which would all taint the legitimacy of the election outcome. 

Freedom of association

The anti-China extradition movement had induced the establishment of trade unions. For example, the Health Authority Employee Alliance (HAEA) was set up in November 2019 with over 10,000 members. It called for a strike in February 2020 — urging the government to close the mainland border in order to prevent COVID-19 from spreading to Hong Kong. However, the chairperson of the HAEA, Yu Wai-ming, was among the 47 activists arrested. Her bail was denied and she currently remains in custody. 

As a result of the newly introduced loyalty pledge requirement among civil servants, many newly established civil servant unions have been and will be forced to disband.  The Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Law Chi-kwong, stressed that he would ensure the unions comply with the NSL.

Recently, a medical doctors’ union, Frontline Doctors’ Union, which has been established for nearly 20 years, was dissolved. Former vice-chairman Siu Yuk Leung explained that no one was willing to take up the union organizer role.

Between June 24—30, 2021, six civic groups were dissolved.  These groups came from a variety of backgrounds: Frontline Doctors’ Union and Medicine Inspire were from the medical sector, Shatin District Policy and the New Democracy Coalition were political groups, g0v.hk was from the IT sector and Spring Church was from the religious sector. 

Freedom of the press

In the recent national security police operation, pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was accused of publishing commentaries calling for foreign sanction in Hong Kong. Seven senior executives were arrested and the paper's assets were frozen. Eventually, the paper was forced to shut down on June 25 and all previous articles were removed from the internet. Carrie Lam stressed the operation was not a suppression of press freedom but a proper move against suspicious acts endangering national security. 

Apple Daily was not the only target. Public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong has also undergone drastic reshuffling throughout the year. Since Lee Pak Chuen became the Director of Broadcasting in March, he introduced a screening mechanism and censored a number of episodes in programs related to current affairs such as Hong Kong Connection and Viewpoint 31. Past video productions were also removed from RTHK’s YouTube channel. 

Between June 24–30, 2021,  Viewpoint 31, RTHK Talk Show and English channel news program the Pulse were abruptly terminated. In addition, Alan Au, the host of a news commentary talk show Free Wind Free Phone, was replaced on the grounds of content and staffing review. 

Side effects

The Hong Kong government stressed that the NSL had restored the city's stability and improved its economy. It also defended measures such as freezing media companies assets as an international norm to prevent further criminal activities.  

Yet, the Wall Street Journal reported in June that countless multinational corporations and professionals are pulling out of Hong Kong in light of the political turmoil, Beijing’s authoritarian measures and the impact of the epidemic. The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong also said some of its members are concerned about the future of investment prospects in Hong Kong after the implementation of the NSL. 

While Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau agreed that it is necessary to clearly explain the new red lines drawn by the NSL, he stressed that the number of foreign investors using Hong Kong as their regional headquarters remains stable.

But professor Chung Kim-wah disagreed with the government’s evaluation. He said all he could see was all-round damages as one year after the implementation of NSL, the justice system had been undermined and Hongkongers had lost the right to a fair trial:

最後得到咩好處?… 只係造成一系列破壞,換嚟佢哋所謂嘅平靜,但實際上無平靜到……政府一無所得,甚至面對好嚴峻嘅 side effect,國際機構或者資金已經走曬,衍生好龐大嘅移民潮,亦令社會出現不合作運動。

Where is the benefit?… All it has caused is a series of damages in exchange of what they called stability. But in reality, there is no peace… the government has gained nothing and is now facing very drastic side effects. Multinational corporations or capitals have left and a huge wave of exodus has emerged. People in the society are unwilling to cooperate with government policy. 

He also pointed out that the NSL has deepened the social conflict and tore the community apart. Under such circumstances, it would be very difficult to re-establish the new order. He believed that people would continue to resist in a passive manner and adopt an uncooperative attitude towards the government for a foreseeable period of time and such public sentiment is not conducive to policy implementation. 

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