HK tightens grip on dissent
Heeding China’s call, police are expected to clampdown on activists
HONG KONG: As Hong Kong’s government hews closer to Beijing, officials are taking a tough line on perceived national security threats, even deploying an elite police unit for political monitoring and surveillance – a sharp escalation in rhetoric and action.
In just the last few months, the special administrative region has banned the Hong Kong National Party, which espouses separation from China, and barred some activists from standing in local elections.
The Education Bureau sent all secondary schools in the Special Administrative Region letters on Sept 24 saying they must prohibit ”the penetration” of the National Party or risk prosecution.
And this month, Hong Kong refused to renew the work visa of Victor Mallet, Asia news editor for the Britishbased Financial Times newspaper, after he hosted a speech by an independence activist.
“We can see them (the government) being much more assertive in using these powers and in shaping their policy decisions to reflect the national interests,” said Professor Simon Young of the University of Hong Kong’s law school, saying the
courts may be a last line of defence against government overreach.
Serving and retired police officers, lawyers and lawmakers describe intensifying political operations by the police force’s Security Wing, an elite unit that officially handles sensitive tasks including VIP protection and counterterrorism investigations.
Sources familiar with the wing’s work say it led surveillance and monitoring operations against the National Party and more than a dozen other groups.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association recently described the prospect of tougher national security enforcement as ”a sword dangled above the heads” of reporters.
The Financial Times said it was appealing the decision denying Mallet a work visa. In his role as first vice president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong, Mallet in August hosted Andy Chan, head of the National Party.
The party was banned last month as an ”imminent threat to national security” as the government invoked littleknown clauses of a law regulating private groups and societies.
Authorities have so far refused to explain their decision on Mallet, except to say that no independence advocacy will be tolerated.
Chan, a bespectacled 28yearold interior decorator, says that his ideology springs from China’s broken promises towards Hong Kong.
But Hong Kong’s government is treating even the consideration of independence as a vital threat.
“Worryingly, they have been parroting the ideological and authoritarian line of Beijing ... irreparably undermining their reputation,” one diplomat said of the city’s government.
In the letter to schools last month, the Education Bureau said, ”should students have erroneous and extreme thoughts, principals and teachers should correct them with facts.” Some teachers described this as a ”gagging order.”
That appears to run contrary to Hong Kong’s miniconstitution, known as the Basic Law, which stresses freedoms of speech and assembly.
Some youths who drove the prodemocracy ”Umbrella Revolution” street demonstrations in 2014 say there is a growing sense of despair at the pressure on civil society and individual rights.
Daniel Cheung, a 29yearold photographer who worked on the Chronicle of a Summer, a documentary on activists such as jailed independence leader Edward Leung, said the situation was worsening fast.
“Put simply, if you see Hong Kong as a house built by the British, this house is now crumbling and leaking. It has been hit by a typhoon and close to toppling over,” Cheung said.
We can see them (the government) being much more assertive in using these powers and in shaping their policy decisions to reflect the nationaln interests. Professor Simon Young