Report Wire - ‘Colonial wine from new, authoritarian bottles’: Hong Kong re-tools sedition regulation

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‘Colonial wine from new, authoritarian bottles’: Hong Kong re-tools sedition regulation

6 min read
‘Colonial wine from new, authoritarian bottles’: Hong Kong re-tools sedition law

The Hong Kong authorities is increasing its use of a long-dormant sedition regulation in what some attorneys and democracy advocates say is intensifying a squeeze on press freedom.
Evidence of the renewed reliance on the sedition laws got here in late December when China-ruled Hong Kong focused two media shops. On Dec 29, about 200 police raided the workplace of on-line outlet Stand News and arrested seven folks, charging two editors with conspiracy to publish “seditious publications”.
Authorities haven’t totally detailed what led to the costs. But pro-Beijing media shops Ta Kung Pao and DotDotNews listed particular Stand News articles that they deemed seditious, together with interviews with native democracy activists and opposition figures – subjects that till just lately weren’t out of the extraordinary in Hong Kong.

A day earlier, prosecutors levelled a brand new cost of sedition towards Jimmy Lai, 74, founding father of the now shuttered Apple Daily newspaper and a few of his high executives.
The cost of sedition, inciting resistance or rebellion towards central authorities, stems from colonial-era legal guidelines designed to thwart dissent towards the British crown, and had not been utilized in Hong Kong for the reason that mid-Sixties till just lately, three authorized students interviewed by Reuters say. Last month’s sedition fees had been the primary to be introduced towards the media since 1967, in line with these students.

Some authorized students say current court docket judgements have empowered authorities to make use of the controversial nationwide safety regulation (NSL) imposed on town by Beijing in 2020, to bolster colonial-era legal guidelines, together with sedition.
The safety regulation, enacted after sometimes-violent, pro-democracy protests rocked town in 2019, offers police additional powers of search, seizure and surveillance and makes it more durable for these arrested to get bail. Only judges chosen for nationwide safety duties will deal with instances underneath the regulation.
The sedition regulation permits officers to immediately goal the revealed content material of media operations and doesn’t require prosecutors to show that an offending article or speech was supposed to be seditious, in line with three attorneys.
“To some extent, the government is better armed now,” Simon Young, a professor on the University of Hong Kong’s regulation college, informed Reuters. “The national security law provides an enhanced procedural and investigative framework to bring these charges.”

A barrister whose profession has straddled Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China in 1997, mentioned: “We can see that at a stroke, the NSL has re-tooled these old laws that were largely forgotten. You could say we are now drinking bitter, old colonial wine from new, authoritarian bottles.”
Asked whether or not the safety laws had enhanced the powers of colonial-era legal guidelines akin to sedition, the Hong Kong Department of Justice declined to remark however mentioned the prosecution of offences endangering nationwide safety was “based on admissible evidence”.
“We express our deep regret regarding the government’s, media and organisations of the United States and Western countries in respect of their attempt to twist facts and slandering remarks on the enforcement actions taken in accordance with the law,” a authorities spokesman informed Reuters.
The actions towards Stand News focused “illegal acts” and had “nothing to do with freedom of the press”, he added.
The newest strikes prolong a media clampdown over the previous yr that included the shutdown of Apple Daily and the imposition of recent workers pointers on public broadcaster RTHK to make sure all content material complies with the nationwide safety regulation.
‘Walking on eggshells’
A full-page article within the China-backed Ta Kung Pao newspaper final week criticised the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) for serving to to organise a regional human rights press award that honoured journalistic works it mentioned had “smeared” the Hong Kong police and Chinese authorities.
The newspaper, whose articles have usually preceded enforcement actions, known as on authorities to analyze.

Asked if the federal government deliberate to analyze the FCC and the HKJA, a authorities spokesman mentioned it didn’t touch upon “speculation”. “We will continue to spare no efforts in pursuing the legal liabilities of any organisations and individuals endangering national security.”
Keith Richburg, the president of the FCC and head of the University of Hong Kong’s journalism college, mentioned that the closure of Stand News and arrests “leaves everyone walking on eggshells … It’s an open question as to whether Hong Kong can continue to thrive and prosper without having that free and open and critical press.”
Ronson Chan, the top of the HKJA, dismissed the Ta Kung Pao allegations, and informed Reuters the awards course of was “independent and fair”.
The authorities spokesman informed Reuters that “freedom of speech and freedom of the press are not absolute, and can be restricted for reasons including protection of national security,” including that “no one is above the law”.
Difficult to implement
Broadly outlined by authorized students as a criminal offense of incitement to withstand or insurrect, in phrases or acts, towards authorized authority, the sedition legal guidelines in Hong Kong and elsewhere have lengthy been seen as British colonial relics overtaken by extra trendy statutes.
According to Hong Kong’s Crimes Ordinance – the laws that particulars sedition offences – it’s a crime to publish something that brings “into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against … the government of Hong Kong”.
Despite the powerful language, some attorneys and teachers mentioned they’d lengthy believed sedition offences could be troublesome to implement. Freedom of speech and different rights protections have been written into extra trendy legal guidelines, together with Hong Kong’s Bill of Rights and the Basic Law, the previous British colony’s mini-constitution since its handover to Beijing in 1997.
Ten teachers, legal attorneys and diplomats interviewed by Reuters mentioned their views had modified as a result of the NSL’s powers will be utilized to older legal guidelines, akin to sedition.
Some provisions of the NSL refer usually to acts “endangering national security”, which judges have dominated successfully extends the regulation’s attain to cowl older, pre-existing legal guidelines that contain nationwide safety, akin to sedition and espionage.
In rulings on pre-trial issues for 2 separate instances final yr, together with one involving media tycoon Lai, the Court of Final Appeal mentioned the safety regulation’s reference to “acts endangering national security” included violations of those older legal guidelines.
And a District Court ruling in April famous that underneath the safety regulation, the older offence of sedition was now categorised as an indictable offence, making it a extra critical crime with a doubtlessly longer statute of limitations and more durable sentencing pointers, in line with the authorized students interviewed by Reuters.
In the previous, the offence of sedition was categorised as a abstract offence that will be dealt with by a decrease court docket Justice of the Peace alone, with no jury.
While the federal government’s enforcement hand has been strengthened, the idea on which authorities arrested journalists and charged media organisations nonetheless must be totally examined in Hong Kong’s courts, together with the Court of Final Appeal, attorneys, authorized students and diplomats level out.
Three legal barristers mentioned sure exceptions written way back into the sedition regulation that authorities at the moment are counting on had been good ammunition for defence counsel.
The Crimes Ordinance states, for instance, that it isn’t seditious to point out the sovereign “has been misled or mistaken in any of (its) measures” or level out “matters which are producing … feelings of ill-will or enmity between different classes of the population of Hong Kong”.