Sweeping Changes in Hong Kong One Year After National Security Law

Second pandemic ban of Tiananmen commemoration . . .

Hong Kong’s annual vigil commemorating China’s deadly 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, initially slated for tomorrow, has been banned for the second time. While ostensibly prohibited to prevent COVID-19 transmission, officials were quick to warn that the national security law will be used against potential demonstrators. Unlike last year, when police relented to thousands defying the ban, around 3,000 officers are reportedly on standby to prevent crowds from forming. Meanwhile, inspectors charged the newly reopened June 4th Museum commemorating Tiananmen for operating without a licence, prompting it to close. And teachers in Hong Kong say they are increasingly hesitant to discuss the incident in the classroom in the wake of high-profile, lifelong bans on teachers who used materials deemed improper by education officials.

Significant changes to governing Legislative Council . . .

With nearly no opposition lawmakers after last year’s mass resignation, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) last Thursday overwhelmingly passed electoral reforms that will cement pro-establishment power. The legislation reduces popularly-elected seats from half to just over 20 per cent of the chamber. It also removes popularly-elected officials from the Election Committee in charge of electing the Chief Executive, vetting LegCo candidates, and selecting 40 of its own members to serve in the LegCo. Though the government defended these changes as necessary to ensure that only “patriots” could govern Hong Kong, opposition politicians condemned the move as a “huge regression in democracy.” Pro-democracy parties now face the decision of whether to participate in the upcoming September elections. One major party, the League of Social Democrats, has already announced its intention to boycottthe polls.

A canary in the coal mine for press freedom?

Meanwhile, drastic changes in Radio and Television Hong Kong (RTHK), the city’s public broadcaster, have raised concerns about the future of press freedom in Hong Kong. Known for its hard-hitting investigative reporting and public interest journalism, RTHK has pulled its online programming archive and fired a prominent ethnic minority reporter. It has also suffered numerous resignations following the appointment of Deputy Secretary of Home Affairs Patrick Li to the editor-in-chief position in February. Li now must personally approve all programming, and employees will have to foot production costs of content that he rejects. With little room for journalism on topics such as Tiananmen, Hong Kong’s pandemic response, and the sweeping electoral reforms, the heavy-handed intervention into RTHK may be indicative of the government’s new approach to press in Hong Kong.