One Big Thing: Is there hope for Hong Kong's Democracy Movement?
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Hong Kong’s 26-year old pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily shut down on June 24 due to “continuous government oppression.” The newspaper was seen as a bastion of media freedom. Management said that it decided to cease operations due to concerns about “staff members' safety” after around 500 police officers raided Apple Daily’s building due to alleged violations of the National Security Law, which criminalizes “undermining the government.” Police also arrested six executives, including the chief editor, and froze assets linked to the company.
Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee justified the raid, saying, “we are talking about a conspiracy in which the suspects tried to make use of journalistic work to collude with a foreign country or external elements to impose sanction or take hostile activities against Hong Kong and the PRC [People’s Republic of China].”
A statement by U.S. President Joe Biden, however, which promised U.S. support for the Hong Kong people, said, “It is a sad day for media freedom in Hong Kong and around the world. Intensifying repression by Beijing has reached such a level that Apple Daily, a much-needed bastion of independent journalism in Hong Kong, has now ceased publishing. Through arrests, threats, and forcing through a National Security Law that penalizes free speech, Beijing has insisted on wielding its power to suppress independent media and silence dissenting views.”
What exactly is the National Security Law?
In essence, it creates a new legal framework that allows China to deal with what it perceives as serious threats to its authority. It was passed in June of last year by the Chinese Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, rather than by the Hong Kong Legislative Council. The law criminalizes any perceived act of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces. In a more practical sense, however, it curtails any form of protest, adversarial press, and freedom of speech.
Numerous human rights organizations have heavily criticized the law including Amnesty International who wrote in a statement that “It is quite clear that the Hong Kong National security law is another example of government using the concept of 'national security' to repress political opposition, with significant risks for human rights defenders, critical media reporting and civil society at large.”
Now that it has been over one year since the law was imposed, it is clear that Beijing is attempting to turn Hong Kong into one of its many mainland megacities where economic engines are robust and political dissent is smothered. Daily life in Hong Kong has been completely changed as residents now report disloyal neighbors to police hotlines, educators teach a curriculum that instills Chinese nationalism, and public libraries have removed dozens of books from circulation, including those by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
As the chairman of the League of Social Democrats, Raphael Wong, put it, “It is crystal clear that under the NSL (National Security Law), over a year, it does have a chilling effect on Hong Kong People…less people would have the confidence to go on the street to speak out.”
Yet, despite China’s increasingly hardline stance, many protesters refuse to give in to the pressure. “We must let them know Hong Kongers won’t give up,” said pro-democracy activist Chow Hang-tung. Chow was later rearrested a day before the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party.
Read more about the impact and history of Apple Daily HERE
Read the National Security Law in full HERE
Authored by Paulina Song & James Robson