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June 1, 2020

More Than 1,500 Hong Kong Artists, Academics Protest China's New National Security Legislation

 

Protester in Hong Kong on December 8, 2019. Photot: doctorho/Flickr.

HONG KONG—More than 1,500 arts and culture workers have signed a petition protesting the legislative plan passed Thursday by China’s National People’s Congress, granting the country the right to suppress subversion, secession, and any acts that might be seen as threats to national security, including political organizing. By being pushed through Congress, it bypassed the Hong Kong government and also grants mainland security forces the authority to operate in the territory.

Democracy advocates fear the legislation—which will be drafted in the coming weeks and is expected to be implemented in September—marks the beginning of a crackdown on certain civil liberties, including the right to the freedom of speech, press, and publication; the freedom of assembly, procession, and demonstration; and the right to strike and join trade unions, as outlined in Hong Kong’s constitutional Basic Law.

Signatories of the petition, which include artist David Diao and academics Claudia Breger and Alice Echols, expressed their “shock, worry, and anger” at the legislation: “Will a stage drama about June 4 be regarded as a subversion of state power? Will participating in an international arts festival or inviting foreign artists to Hong Kong for artistic exchange be considered as inducing intervention by foreign countries or foreign forces? Will lyrics about anti-extradition protests be labeled as inciting terrorist activities? . . . Will arts education programs be funded only if ‘national security’ elements are included?”

Two-thousand eight-hundred and seventy-eight delegates voted in favor of the the national security bill, with just one vote against and six abstentions. Its implementation will allow Beijing to stifle the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which began last March and have resumed since Covid-19 lockdowns have been lifted. Demonstrations this week followed a Sunday march, which gathered thousands of people in defiance of social distancing restrictions and marked the largest protest in months. Police fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and a water cannon on civilians, and on Wednesday they arrested two hundred people, reports the New York Times.

“The proposed national security law will put arts and cultural workers at risk of violating prohibitions and create a climate of fear and self-censorship that harms artistic expression, free speech, cultural exchange and even personal security,” continues the petition. “The consequent damage to the image of Hong Kong as a cultural metropolis and to the economy will be incalculable.”

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