Free Expression in Hong Kong Faces New Threats

digital times

At The New York Times, Austin Ramzy and Amy Qin report on growing concerns that the relative freedom of expression enjoyed in Hong Kong since the 1997 handover may continue to wane as Beijing persists in exerting pressure on the semi-autonomous territory. The Times’ coverage of the issue follows the recent visa denial for Financial Times’ Asia editor and Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) vice-president Victor Mallet, in what appeared to be blowback for the FCC’s hosting of Andy Chan, leader of the small pro-independence Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) while Mallet was acting as FCC president in August. In September, Hong Kong banned the HKNP. While unprecedented in the Hong Kong context, both the banning of a political party and the denial of a visa for a foreign journalist are standard practices on the mainland.

[…F]ew expected the reverberations that followed [Andy Chan’s scheduled speech at the FCC]: Beijing demanded that the club cancel the speech. Hong Kong expelled a prominent journalist after the club refused. And the backlash raised questions about the city’s future as a haven where rule of law and civil rights are better protected than elsewhere in Asia.

“I would say it is the biggest mistake the Hong Kong government has ever made,” said Fu Hualing, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, of the decision to expel Victor Mallet, the Asia news editor of The Financial Times. “It has a huge impact. I don’t know whether it was intended or not, but it has been felt everywhere.”

[…] In recent years, local media outlets have come under some pressure to censor themselves, but foreign news organizations using Hong Kong as a regional hub — including The Financial Times, The New York Times and CNN — have largely been immune. Mr. Mallet’s expulsion, however, could change that.

“They have moved the goal posts,” said Zoher Abdoolcarim, the former Asia editor for Time International.

The decision has also cast a shadow over Hong Kong’s future as a capital of international finance and commerce, with some in the business community saying privately that it could tip the balance for companies already being wooed to relocate to Singapore. […] [Source]

Meanwhile, cartoonist and friend of CDT Badiucao’s first solo exhibition, scheduled to open on November 3 in Hong Kong amid the region’s “Free Expression Week,” was cancelled due to “safety concerns.” Hong Kong Free Press reported last week:

We are sorry to announce that the exhibition “Gongle,” by Chinese artist Badiucao, has been cancelled out of safety concerns.

The decision follows threats made by the Chinese authorities relating to the artist. Whilst the organisers value , the safety of our partners remains a major concern.

We regret having to make this decision, and hope there will be a chance for public to see Badiucao’s work in future.

Other Free Expression Week events will continue as normal. [Source]

More from Global Voices’ Oiwan Lam:

The event was seen by many as a test of the limits of free speech in Hong Kong, which enjoys more freedoms than mainland China, under a principle known as “One Country, Two Systems.” In recent years, Beijing has more forcefully asserted its influence over Hong Kong. Those who support more democratic rights, such as genuine universal suffrage, or outright independence, have faced fierce repression.

The organizers have not described the nature of the threats that the artist received. He is typically outspoken online, but has not updated his Twitter since November 1.

Badiucao had not intended to travel to Hong Kong, but was supposed to participate in a panel discussion via video call with Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, Hong Kong artists Sampson Wong and Oscar Ho, and Russian punk-rock protesters Olga Kuracheva and Veronika Nikulshina, both members of the band Pussy Riot.

Although the exhibition was cancelled, the panelists decided to proceed and hold a discussion about art and freedom of expression in a small studio. They live-streamed the event on Facebook. [Source]

Prior to the cancellation of Badiucao’s show, the Hong Kong Free Press published a cartoon showcase and interview with the artist, in which he expressed stark concern for the future of free expression and continued autonomy in the region, and condemned global and corporate compliance with Beijing’s “digital authoritarianism”:

Badiucao is particularly eager to poke fun at the gestures of Facebook, Google and Twitter that demonstrate how these internet giants are willing to upend the values underpinning the internet – free access of information to all – in order to be granted entry into the Chinese market.

[…] An artist who is increasingly concerned with China’s creeping surveillance tactics alongside the diminishing platforms and spaces for free expression, Badiucao cited the kidnapping of the Causeway Bay booksellers in 2015 as a reason for not wanting to come to Hong Kong.

[…] The threat of China’s creeping encroachments in Hong Kong runs through the show. “I chose Hong Kong as the location [for the show]. It means a lot to me. I see Hong Kong as a lighthouse for the future of China. We can be better, as Chinese people,” he says.

His esteem for Hong Kong carries darker fears for the future of the territory. “I think we are witnessing the dying of Hong Kong,’ he says. [Source]

Amid the situation in Hong Kong, Taiwan has begun to attract foreign media and press freedom organizations (Reporters Without Borders, for example, scrapped their plans to open a Hong Kong office in 2017, opting instead to open their first Asia bureau in Taipei). At Splice, Erin Hale reports:

When German broadcaster Deutsche Welle announced it was opening its Greater China bureau in Taipei, it was met with considerable enthusiasm by journalists and China watchers.

The choice to set up shop in Taiwan over Hong Kong is significant: long the preference for Asian editing desks, Hong Kong’s status as a journalism hub is facing an uncertain future after kicking out its first foreign journalist, Financial Times Asia news editor Victor Mallet.

Deutsche Welle’s decision is also an indication that Taiwan, long overshadowed by its relationship to China, might finally be getting more international recognition.

Foreign media outlets are slowly, but surely, expanding their presence in what is one of Asia’s only liberal democracies. […] [Source]

Curated from CDT