What You Can No Longer Say in Hong Kong – The New York Times

A sweeping national security law passed on June 30 instantly altered the lives and liberties of Hong Kong’s residents, criminalizing words and images that just hours earlier had been legally protected free speech.

The next day, thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators tested the limits of the new law. Some carried signs bearing slogans like these, which for months had been lawfully displayed in the streets of the semiautonomous Chinese city.



Pro-democracy protests are a regular feature on July 1, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule from Britain. This year’s march took place under the shadow of the new security law.Miguel Candela/EPA, via Shutterstock

The police have since arrested more than 20 people under the new law, which lays out political crimes punishable by life imprisonment in serious cases, and allows Beijing to intervene directly if it wants.

Hong Kong was once a bastion of free speech. It served as a base for the international news media and for rights groups, and as a haven for political refugees, including the student leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing. Books on sensitive political topics that are banned in mainland China found a home in the city’s bookstores.

But the limits of the security law are vaguely defined. As a result, artists, journalists, activists, academics and others risk running afoul of the law for what they say, write, or tweet.

The owners of this bubble tea shop, who had earlier publicly supported the protests, removed the pro-democracy ephemera that once decorated their store.






Post-It notes with messages supporting the protesters

Black T-shirts, worn by protesters, became a symbol of the movement

This character became an unofficial protest mascot

SEPTEMBER 2020 Months later, after the national security law had been passed, the shop’s owners removed all of the pro-democracy ephemera. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

DECEMBER 2019 This bubble tea shop proudly displayed its support of the protest movement. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Post-It notes with messages supporting the protesters

Black T-shirts, worn by protesters, became a symbol of the movement

This character became an unofficial protest mascot

SEPTEMBER 2020 Months later, after the national security law had been passed, the shop’s owners removed all of the pro-democracy ephemera. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

DECEMBER 2019 This bubble tea shop proudly displayed its support of the protest movement. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Post-It notes with messages supporting the protesters

Black T-shirts, worn by protesters, became a symbol of the movement

This character became an unofficial protest mascot

DECEMBER 2019 This bubble tea shop proudly displayed its support of the protest movement. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

SEPTEMBER 2020 Months later, after the national security law had been passed, the shop’s owners removed all of the pro-democracy ephemera. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Post-It notes with messages supporting the protesters

Black T-shirts, worn by protesters, became a symbol of the movement

This character became an unofficial protest mascot

DECEMBER 2019 This bubble tea shop proudly displayed its support of the protest movement. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

SEPTEMBER 2020 Months later, after the national security law had been passed, the shop’s owners removed all of the pro-democracy ephemera. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Post-It notes with messages supporting the protesters

Black T-shirts, worn by protesters, became a symbol of the movement

This character became an unofficial protest mascot

DECEMBER 2019 This bubble tea shop proudly displayed its support of the protest movement. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

SEPTEMBER 2020 Months later, after the national security law had been passed, the shop’s owners removed all of the pro-democracy ephemera. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Post-It notes with messages supporting the protesters

Black T-shirts, worn by protesters, became a symbol of the movement

This character became an unofficial protest mascot

DECEMBER 2019 This bubble tea shop proudly displayed its support of the protest movement. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

SEPTEMBER 2020 Months later, after the national security law had been passed, the shop’s owners removed all of the pro-democracy ephemera. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times


One restaurant took down signs in support of the protests and replaced them with Mao-era propaganda posters, giving the Communist Party’s calls for revolution back then an ironic modern twist.






Leaflets let protesters know when marches would take place

Communist Party propaganda replaced protest posters.

“United Together to Fight

for Bigger Victories”

“Right to Revolution!

Right to Rebel!”

“I Get Stronger As I Fight,

Meanwhile My Enemies Get Weaker”

“Break the Old World;

Create a New World.”

SEPTEMBER 1, 2020 Mao-era propaganda posters, a sly criticism after the law was passed. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

JANUARY 2020 Calendars advertising the date and location of upcoming protests were displayed at the entrance of this restaurant. Dai Todum via Google Maps

Leaflets let protesters know when marches would take place

Communist Party propaganda replaced protest posters.

“United Together to Fight

for Bigger Victories”

“Right to Revolution!

Right to Rebel!”

“Break the Old World;

Create a New World.”

JANUARY 2020 Calendars advertising the date and location of upcoming protests were displayed at the entrance of this restaurant. Dai Todum via Google Maps

SEPTEMBER 1, 2020 Mao-era propaganda posters, a sly criticism after the law was passed. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Leaflets let protesters know when marches would take place

Communist Party propaganda replaced protest posters.

“Break the Old World;

Create a New World.”

“Right to Revolution!

Right to Rebel!”

JANUARY 2020 Calendars advertising the date and location of upcoming protests were displayed at the entrance of this restaurant. Dai Todum via Google Maps

SEPTEMBER 1, 2020 Mao-era propaganda posters, a sly criticism after the law was passed. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Leaflets let protesters know when marches would take place

Communist Party propaganda replaced protest posters.

“Break the Old World;

Create a New World.”

“Right to Revolution!

Right to Rebel!”

JANUARY 2020 Calendars advertising the date and location of upcoming protests were displayed at the entrance of this restaurant. Dai Todum via Google Maps

SEPTEMBER 1, 2020 Mao-era propaganda posters, a sly criticism after the law was passed. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Leaflets let protesters know when marches would take place

JANUARY 2020 Calendars advertising the date and location of upcoming protests were displayed at the entrance of this restaurant. Dai Todum via Google Maps

Communist Party propaganda replaced protest posters.

“Break the Old World;

Create a New World.”

“Right to Revolution!

Right to Rebel!”

SEPTEMBER 1, 2020 Mao-era propaganda posters, a sly criticism after the law was passed. Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times


Publishers have hastily rewritten sections of textbooks used in a mandatory high school civics course to avoid the appearance of openly criticizing the government. In one book, a publisher removed a cartoon that raised questions about how Hong Kong’s leader is chosen — by a small committee stacked with supporters of Beijing.






“We Oppose Small-Circle Elections!”

“The right to nominate candidates”

This cartoon criticizing the process by which Hong Kong’s chief executive is selected has been removed from “Hong Kong Today,” a textbook used in a high school civics course, in its latest edition.

“The right to nominate candidates”

“We Oppose Small-Circle Elections!”

This cartoon criticizing the process by which Hong Kong’s chief executive is selected has been removed from “Hong Kong Today,” a textbook used in a high school civics course, in its latest edition.

“The right to nominate candidates”

“We Oppose Small-Circle Elections!”

This cartoon criticizing the process by which Hong Kong’s chief executive is selected has been removed from “Hong Kong Today,” a textbook used in a high school civics course, in its latest edition.


Passages about corrupt party officials and the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on democracy protesters, a topic largely taboo in schools in the mainland, have been amended or removed from new textbooks, a Times analysis has found.

The enforcement of the new security law in Hong Kong’s schools and universities targets the city’s younger residents, who played a critical role in months of protests last year. Forty percent of the 10,000 protesters arrested over the past year were students and about one in six were under the age of 18, according to the police.

Libraries have removed books written by democracy activists and placed them under review. And writers working on sensitive topics have sought publishers overseas.






“Liberate Hong Kong,

Revolution of Our Time”

Top: The book “Our Last Evolution,” which documented the pro-democracy protests, was published in Taiwan instead of Hong Kong over concerns about the safety of contributors.

 

Left: The publisher of “To Freedom: A Year of Defiance in Hong Kong,” a collection of essays about the protests, had trouble finding a printer that would put out the book.

The books “I Am Not A Hero” by Joshua Wong, a prominent activist, and “My Journeys for Food and Justice” by Tanya Chan, a pro-democracy lawmaker, were among those removed from library shelves as they were put under review.

“Liberate Hong Kong,

Revolution of Our Time”

Top: The book “Our Last Evolution,” which documented the pro-democracy protests, was published in Taiwan instead of Hong Kong over concerns about the safety of contributors.

 

Left: The publisher of “To Freedom: A Year of Defiance in Hong Kong,” a collection of essays about the protests, had trouble finding a printer that would put out the book.

The books “I Am Not A Hero” by Joshua Wong, a prominent activist, and “My Journeys for Food and Justice” by Tanya Chan, a pro-democracy lawmaker, were among those removed from library shelves as they were put under review.

“Liberate Hong Kong,

Revolution of Our Time”

Top: The book “Our Last Evolution,” which documented the pro-democracy protests, was published in Taiwan instead of Hong Kong over concerns about the safety of contributors.

 

Left: The publisher of “To Freedom: A Year of Defiance in Hong Kong,” a collection of essays about the protests, had trouble finding a printer that would put out the book.

The books “I Am Not A Hero” by Joshua Wong, a prominent activist, and “My Journeys for Food and Justice” by Tanya Chan, a pro-democracy lawmaker, were among those removed from library shelves as they were put under review.

“Liberate Hong Kong,

Revolution of Our Time”

Top: The book “Our Last Evolution,” which documented the pro-democracy protests, was published in Taiwan instead of Hong Kongover concerns about the safety of contributors.

 

Left: The publisher of “To Freedom: A Year of Defiance in Hong Kong,” a collection of essays about the protests, had trouble finding a printer that would put out the book.

The books “I Am Not A Hero” by Joshua Wong, a prominent activist, and “My Journeys for Food and Justice” by Tanya Chan, a pro-democracy lawmaker, were among those removed from library shelves as they were put under review.

“Liberate Hong Kong,

Revolution of Our Time”

Top: The book “Our Last Evolution,” which documented the pro-democracy protests, was published in Taiwan instead of Hong Kong over concerns about the safety of contributors.

 

Bottom left: The books “I Am Not A Hero” by Joshua Wong, a prominent activist, and “My Journeys for Food and Justice” by Tanya Chan, a pro-democracy lawmaker, were among those removed from library shelves as they were put under review.

 

Bottom middle: The books “I Am Not A Hero” by Joshua Wong, a prominent activist, and “My Journeys for Food and Justice” by Tanya Chan, a pro-democracy lawmaker, were among those removed from library shelves as they were put under review.

 

Bottom right: The publisher of “To Freedom: A Year of Defiance in Hong Kong,” a collection of essays about the protests, had trouble finding a printer that would put out the book.

 

 

 

 

“Liberate Hong Kong,

Revolution of Our Time”

Top: The book “Our Last Evolution,” which documented the pro-democracy protests, was published in Taiwan instead of Hong Kong over concerns about the safety of contributors.

 

Bottom left: The books “I Am Not A Hero” by Joshua Wong, a prominent activist, and “My Journeys for Food and Justice” by Tanya Chan, a pro-democracy lawmaker, were among those removed from library shelves as they were put under review.

 

Bottom middle: The books “I Am Not A Hero” by Joshua Wong, a prominent activist, and “My Journeys for Food and Justice” by Tanya Chan, a pro-democracy lawmaker, were among those removed from library shelves as they were put under review.

 

Bottom right: The publisher of “To Freedom: A Year of Defiance in Hong Kong,” a collection of essays about the protests, had trouble finding a printer that would put out the book.

 

 

 

 


Raymond Yeung, the author of “To Freedom: A Year of Defiance in Hong Kong,” said three printers in the city refused to produce his book after the law was passed.

To get the book published, he said, he had to remove photos that included the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong” and all mentions of independence for Hong Kong.

The security law has also sent a chill through Hong Kong’s once freewheeling news media.

RTHK, the public broadcaster, removed a political podcast from its website after the authorities warned that an interview with Nathan Law, a democracy activist now living abroad, could be in breach of the new law.

In August, Jimmy Lai, the publisher of Apple Daily, a local newspaper, was arrested under the law. During a raid at the office of Mr. Lai’s newspaper, the police selectively barred several news outlets from getting past their cordon.

Lau Kwong Shing, an illustrator known for artwork supporting the protests, said he planned to leave Hong Kong, but in the meantime would take a break from explicitly political drawings.






Illustrations by Lau Kwong Shing. The artist has said he will refrain from making overtly political works until he can leave Hong Kong.

Illustrations by Lau Kwong Shing. The artist has said he will refrain from making overtly political works until he can leave Hong Kong.


“Staying in Hong Kong could become dangerous,” Mr. Lau said. “What I illustrate is just an expression of my thoughts, but that might now come with legal consequences.”

Others have sought creative ways to skirt the law. They carry blank signs or ones with coded messages. They play protest songs but without lyrics.






The government has said that the protest slogan, “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of Our Times,” could be seditious under the security law.

A pro-democracy activist raises a banner reading “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our time” outside a shopping mall on May 1, 2020. Kin Cheung/Associated Press

Protesters converted the message into shapes and patterns in order to skirt the law.

The government has said that the protest slogan, “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of Our Times,” could be seditious under the security law.

A pro-democracy activist raises a banner reading “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our time” outside a shopping mall on May 1, 2020. Kin Cheung/Associated Press

Protesters converted the message into shapes and patterns in order to skirt the law.

The government has said that the protest slogan, “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of Our Times,” could be seditious under the security law.

A pro-democracy activist raises a banner reading “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our time” outside a shopping mall on May 1, 2020. Kin Cheung/Associated Press

Protesters converted the message into shapes and patterns in order to skirt the law.

The government has said that the protest slogan, “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of Our Times,” could be seditious under the security law.

A pro-democracy activist raises a banner reading “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our time” outside a shopping mall on May 1, 2020. Kin Cheung/Associated Press

Protesters converted the message into shapes and patterns in order to skirt the law.

The government has said that the protest slogan, “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of Our Times,” could be seditious under the security law

A pro-democracy activist raises a banner reading “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our time” outside a shopping mall on May 1, 2020. Kin Cheung/Associated Press

Protesters converted the message into shapes and patterns in order to skirt the law.


But there are concerns that even such workarounds may be deemed illegal.

“The police were giving warnings to young protesters holding blank signs,” said Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy lawmaker. “They are trying to say: ‘If we say you’re expressing a criminal opinion, then that’s it, because we are the law.’”

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