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Hong Kong Cultural Workers Say New Legislation Will Eliminate Creative Freedom

Over 1,500 people have signed a petition questioning “how much room would remain for free speech and artistic expression” in a now-passed legislation plan that would give mainland China the power to suppress political protest in Hong Kong.

A protest in Hong Kong on December 8, 2019 (doctorho/Flickr)

Today, May 28, China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), nearly unanimously approved a legislative plan which will give mainland China the power to suppress political protest in Hong Kong.

The proposed law bans secession, subversion of state power, terrorism, foreign intervention, and allows mainland China’s security forces to operate in Hong Kong.

Last week, a group of more than 1,500 arts and cultural workers in Hong Kong released a petition in which they expressed their “shock, worry and anger” at the legislative proposal.

“The Central Government is acting so heavy-handedly in its attempt to arrive at a swift, finalized solution, at a time when the Coronavirus pandemic is not yet over and the people of Hong Kong are still struggling to stay safe, resume work and reopen schools,” the petition reads.

Only one delegate voted against the legislation, while 2,878 voted in favor of it and six abstained, CNN reported.

The NPC standing committee will draft the law in the coming weeks. Once promulgated, it will be implemented by the Hong Kong government, thus bypassing the city’s legislative body. The law is expected to take effect in September.

The unprecedented move will allow China to crack down on the anti-government protests in the city, which have been recently resumed after the COVID-19 lockdown was eased. Artists have been taking a leading role in the protests since they began in March of last year.

“We seriously question how much room would remain for free speech and artistic expression,” the art workers’ petition says. “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?”

Article 27 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law stipulates that “Residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike.”

These freedoms are now in danger, according to the petitioners. “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,” the petition says. “The consequent damage to the image of Hong Kong as a cultural metropolis and to the economy will be incalculable.”

About 300 people were arrested in a protest in Hong Kong yesterday, May 27. That same day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the State Department no longer considers Hong Kong as an autonomous territory. According to the New York Times, the United States government might threaten to end its special trade and economic relations with the city as a retaliatory move against China.

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