In Hong Kong, repression continues to fall on representatives of the pro-democratic camp and freedom of expression. The president of the journalists’ union was arrested on Wednesday, September 7, and five authors of books explaining the democratic movement to children were sentenced for “sedition”.
Ronson Chan, president of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, was arrested for obstructing law enforcement and disturbing public order, Agence France-Presse learned from a police source, confirming information published by the local media. Police have confirmed that a 41-year-old man named Chan was arrested after he refused to show his ID card to officers and behaved in a manner “uncooperative” despite multiple warnings.
Channel C, the online news agency Mr Chan works for, claimed the journalist was taken away by police officers while reporting on a meeting of council housing owners. Mr. Chan should in principle leave Hong Kong at the end of September after winning a scholarship to attend a six-month Reuters Institute program at Oxford University.
Like many civil society groups and pro-democracy unions now closed, Ronson Chan and the Hong Kong Journalists Association have come under heavy criticism from media outlets that report to the Beijing Liaison Office in the town. Often, police interventions follow such recriminations.
Vast campaign of repression of dissent
After one hundred and fifty-six years of British colonization (1841-1997), followed by twenty-five others under Chinese sovereignty, Hong Kong has lost – in less than three years – most of the characteristics of its identity. Despite an unsuccessful process of democratization, Hong Kong was until recently the only part of Chinese territory enjoying a solid rule of law, based on independent justice rendered by local and foreign judges, a political opposition, great freedom of worship, a free press, unregulated internet access, world-class universities and open borders.
These attributes are meant to last until at least 2047. During the process of retrocession of Hong Kong to China by the United Kingdom, which ended in 1997, Beijing had indeed undertaken to apply the principle “one country, two systems” for fifty years. Yet as the region entered, the 1er July 2022, in the second half of this period, it is clear that Hong Kong is transformed. The authorities are now carrying out a vast campaign of repression of dissent, after the immense, and sometimes violent, 2019 pro-democracy protests.
Fall in press freedom ranking
Victims of this coercion, the newspaper Apple Daily and the online information platform StandNews – for which Mr Chan worked – both closed last year after several of their executives were accused of violating national security law. In 2021, Hong Kong fell sixty-eight places in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) press freedom ranking, published in May 2022, to reach the 148th place in the world. When RSF published its first report in 2002, Hong Kong was ranked 18th.
The Hong Kong Foreign Press Club even waived its prestigious Asia Human Rights Press Prize this year, citing the security law; his decision sparked controversy among many member journalists. In addition, the city’s public radio, RTHK, is increasingly resembling Chinese state media after being overhauled by government order.
“Seditious intent does not just come from words”
In this context of increased repression, on Wednesday September 7 a Hong Kong court found guilty of sedition five people who had produced four illustrated electronic books intended to explain the democratic movement of Hong Kong to children. In the book Sheep Village Defenders, a group of wolves tries to occupy a village of sheep, which defend themselves. In another, wolves are depicted as being filthy and bringing disease to the sheep village.
All members of a trade union, the five Hong Kongers were found guilty of “conspiring to print, publish, sell, offer for sale, distribute, exhibit or reproduce a seditious publication”. Lai Man-ling, Melody Yeung, Sidney Ng, Samuel Chan and Fong Tsz-ho, all founding members of the speech therapists union behind the books, were kept in prison for more than a year before their verdict.
After a two-month trial, Kwok Wai-kin, a judge of the district court appointed by the government to try national security cases, wrote in his judgment: “Seditious intent comes not simply from words, but from words with proscribed effects intended to reverberate on the minds of children. »
During the trial, prosecutors argued that the books contained a “anti-Chinese sentiment” and aimed to “incite readers to hatred against the authorities of the continent”. They also said the books were intended to encourage Hong Kongers to discriminate against “Mainland Chinese living in Hong Kong”. Finally, the conviction is based on an offense of sedition dating from the time when the city was under British domination.
The defense argued that the offense of sedition was loosely defined and that each reader should be able to make up their own mind about what the characters in the books represented. She also warned that such a verdict would further criminalize political criticism and have a chilling effect on society.