Hong Kong: Business actions and statements over controversial extradition bill

In February 2019, the Hong Kong government proposed the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, more commonly known as the extradition bill. While allowing the transfer of a suspect from Hong Kong to Taiwan for a murder case, the proposed bill would also allow the transfer of criminal suspects to other jurisdictions with which the city has no extradition agreements, including mainland China. The proposal bill has faced widespread criticism and opposition both domestically and internationally. Many worry that the bill would destroy the rule of law in Hong Kong and put the integrity of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle at stake. The anti-extradition law sentiment intensified in June, sparking off a series of street protests, including two large-scale protests on 9 June and 16 June in which millions of citizens took to the street and urged the government to fully withdraw the bill.

Some stakeholders from the business sector have also publicly expressed their concerns that the bill might undermine overseas investors’ confidence in Hong Kong and damage the reputation of the city as an international financial centre. 

On 9 July, Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of the Special Administrative Region, said that there was no plan to restart the amendment process and that “the bill is dead”. On 4 Sptember, Carrie Lam announced the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill. 

In August, "Cathay Pacific Airways…said it had sacked a pilot who was arrested and charged over clashes between police and anti-government protesters in Sheung Wan on July 28. Another cockpit crew member…who was revealed…to have been suspended for misusing company information related to the protests, also had his employment terminated."; it was reported that at least 20 aviation professionals had been fired or had resigned amidst the ongoing anti-government protests. Cathay Pacific also urged staff members to "speak up" under its whistle-blowing policy in an internal memo, raising concern over Cathay’s responsibility to respect the human rights of its employees… "Similar questions have been raised about the responsibility of companies supplying tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds to Hong Kong Police"

MTR, Hong Kong's rail operator, has come under increasing pressure when protestors and lawmakers asked for the release of the CCTV footage at Prince Edward station from the night of 31 August "when riot police stormed the platform and trains using pepper spray and batons". MTR said in response to media inquiries that "the relevant footage from Prince Edward station will be kept for three years".

 

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Article
19 March 2020

Hong Kong: MTR ordered by court to release CCTV footage to student seeking damages from police for alleged assault

Author: Hong Kong Free Press

“Court rules MTR must release CCTV footage to student caught up in Prince Edward Station police raid”, 18 March 2020

The High Court has ordered the MTR Corporation to hand over CCTV footage from Prince Edward and Lai Chi Kok Stations to a student who is seeking damages from the police for alleged assault…

On August 31 last year, baton-wielding riot police stormed into the station, deploying pepper spray and leaving dozens injured. The transit firm has since resisted calls to release the CCTV clips from the night, publishing only still images.

Kex Leung Yiu-ting, head of Education University’s student union, was arrested at Prince Edward station on the night in question and said he was beaten by police. Leung said he was passing through the station and was not participating in any protest. He is also claiming damages for alleged unlawful arrest

He applied to the court for a Norwich Pharmacal Order to force the disclosure of the security camera footage. It must now be released within 10 days.

The court said… that clips must be handed over... it ruled that the footage may only be used by the plaintiff in regards to his case – copying or further disclosing the footage would not be allowed.

Last September, MTR chief Adi Lau said that the CCTV footage could not yet be disclosed over privacy issues affecting other passengers. However, the Judge Anderson Chow said that the firm’s concerns over data privacy were no longer valid in Leung’s case.

Chow added that that the overall circumstances in Prince Edward Station would be relevant in assessing whether the conduct of the police would justify an award for damages…  

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Article
21 February 2020

Sony World Photography Awards accused of censoring photos featuring Hong Kong protests

Author: Inside Imaging

“World Photography Awards ‘censors’ Hong Kong protests”, 20 February 2020

The prestigious Sony World Photography Awards has reinstated finalists’ photos depicting events from the Hong Kong protests, after being slammed for callow censorship for removing the images due to a complaint regarding their ‘sensitive nature’.

The World Photography Organisation (WPO) went into full damage control mode… when Hong Kong photographer, Ko Chung-ming, discovered the link to his Documentary Category finalist images was broken. He initially thought the website had been ‘attacked’, but became concerned the WPO were censoring Hong Kong photos after finding other shortlisted images of the protests by Australian photographer, Adam Ferguson, and American photographer, David Buton, were also down.

Ko’s series, Wounds of Hong Kong, is a portrait series showing injuries and scars sustained by people participating in the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Despite being ‘temporarily taken down’, the photos remain in the running for a prize…

In a Facebook post, Ko said the WPO responded to him with this statement: ‘A concern was raised about the sensitive nature of some of the images in the series which we must take into consideration. We have temporarily taken down the images as part of a standard process which we have put in place for these type of cases until we are able to review everything in further detail.’

Ko is unsure who is the source of the complaint and what their concern may be. ‘But why should any “concerns” not be addressed by the judges at the judging phase?’ he told Hong Kong Free Press. ‘As long as the final result is up to the jury’s professional judgement, I wouldn’t say there’s censorship.’…

Criticism has been harsh and plentiful on the WPO Facebook page, with hundreds of commenters querying its motivations…

According to a WPO statement, which has been pinned on every recent Facebook post, ‘concerns raised can be anything that is deemed to contradict the competition’s terms and conditions’.

‘We always take these concerns seriously and the images in question will be temporarily unavailable on our site pending the review process. There has been a review which is now complete. There have been no changes to photographers’ positions and titles in this year’s Awards.’…

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Article
11 November 2019

Access Now expresses concerns over injunction to ban messages on information-sharing platforms in open letter to HK government

Author: Access Now

“#KeepItOn: Keeping the internet open and secure in Hong Kong”, 1 November 2019

… We write to express grave concern at the injunction requested by the Hong Kong Executive to ban messages on messaging and information-sharing platforms such as the messaging application Telegram and Hong Kong forum site LIHKG under the banner of preventing the incitement of violence…

… The court order, granted in response to an application filed by the secretary for justice, prohibits “willfully disseminating, circulating, publishing or republishing” material online that “promotes, encourages or incites the use or threat of violence.” This vague and overbroad language offends established principles of international law protecting the freedoms of opinion and expression. The order further bans such acts that “promote, encourage or incite” harms including “bodily injury to any person unlawfully” or “damage to any property unlawfully,” going far beyond the accepted basis for restrictions on expression. Such imprecise language leaves room for authorities to exercise wide discretion in law enforcement, with the potential to unlawfully chill speech and deter demonstrators.

… We warned earlier that attempts to decrease the openness of the internet only mask human rights violations and create barriers to long-term stability and peaceful dialogue.

We appreciate that your administration chose to respond to our letter on 25 September 2019; we, however, were further alarmed by the position taken there — and now before the Hong Kong High Court — in aggressively choosing to emphasize that your government would not rule out restricting online communications and internet connectivity in Hong Kong. In a response to our letter, the Chief Executive emphasized that, “While we respect all citizens’ right to express their opinion freely, it is imperative that everyone in Hong Kong should act in accordance with the law.” Yet, an order so vague and broad as this injunction is impossible to comply with and, rather than further the rule of law, confuses stakeholders and destabilizes society during a sensitive period…

The undersigned organizations call on the Hong Kong Executive and administration to cease this effort to unlawfully disrupt access to websites, apps, and services — or even the internet as a whole — in Hong Kong…

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Article
6 November 2019

UK: Confection showing support for Hong Kong protests disqualified from Birmingham cake contest

Author: Natasha Frost & Jane Li, Quartz

“Censorship of Hong Kong’s protests has spread to a UK cake contest”, 4 November 2019

… Attempts to clamp down on the demonstrators, and their icons, reached risible levels… after an elaborately crafted confection supporting the protests was disqualified from a Cake International decorating competition in Birmingham, England. The creation featured a tiny protester bearing a yellow umbrella and a large confectionary mask. Liquid nitrogen, designed to look like tear gas, swirled from behind the umbrellas.

The work was disqualified on the grounds that “the message behind” it had been “viewed as offensive and led to complaints from attendees,” according to an email posted to social media.

The baker is reportedly connected to the Hong Kong brunch restaurant 3rd Space… according to a Time Out review. In an Instagram story, representatives from the café said they had been “DQ”—disqualified—and accused the competition organizers of hypocrisy.

In a Facebook post, Cake International said that it had received “complaints” about the cake’s content, “with some threatening to damage the piece.” But the cake had been disqualified, it added, for breaking the rules: The tiny umbrellas perched on the edge of it “overhang the allowed area” and are thus oversized. The company denied that it was censoring the cake:

“Cake International is an inclusive community and welcomes entries from across the world, this competition entry was not removed as a political statement but was disqualified as a direct result of it not being made in line with our competition schedule.

We appreciate that this situation is sensitive and there are many passionate views across the world, our decisions are based purely on what is in the best interest for the cake decorating community and not as a statement of our beliefs or opinions.”…

The complainant has since made herself known: Chen Yao, a Chinese competitor, said on the social media platform Weibo that she and four other Chinese women attending the event had reported the cake to the organizer. Chen… said she did the right thing to defend China. “Some people questioned whether I was hurting others’ freedom of speech by doing so. I’d like to say, there is no such a thing as absolute freedom of speech, the freedom needs to be built upon the national interest,” she said…

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Article
31 October 2019

Hong Kong: Facebook reportedly disregards police's requests to remove "defamatory" posts on officers' handling of protesters

Author: Ng Kang-chung, South China Morning Post

“Hong Kong police ask Facebook to remove ‘defamatory’ posts on officers’ handling of protesters, leading to accusations force is stifling free speech”, 30 October 2019

Hong Kong police have asked Facebook to remove posts containing what they said were defamatory or unfounded allegations about their handling of anti-government protests, leading to accusations the force was interfering with free speech.

The Post has learned the social media giant will not delete any of the posts flagged by police despite two formal requests demanding it do so, which also included a call for the company to surrender all relevant information for investigation…

Police raised concerns in a letter… about posts published the previous month…

In its letter, publicly available on its official website, the force said: “As a global social media platform, Facebook absolutely has the responsibility to ensure that contents dispatched by its users are factual and in the public interest.”

Facebook apparently did not heed the police’s demands and the force issued another letter… expressing “extreme disappointment” with the company’s inaction.

In the second letter, the force referred to more “defamatory” posts and again insisted Facebook act decisively against “inaccurate reports” and posts that “provoke hatred”.

“We strongly demand the Hong Kong office of Facebook remove such content and hand over relevant information to police for further investigation,” the… letter read…

Henry Chan Wan-hoi, a critic of the Hong Kong government who is described as an online influencer, said the force’s reaction amounted to interference with basic freedoms…

A Facebook spokesman said: “We can confirm that we have received two letters from the Hong Kong police force regarding Hong Kong protest content on Facebook.”

A police spokeswoman said it was common practice for it to contact organisations and media to set the record straight on untrue or inaccurate reports, and to clarify its position. She declined to comment further…

[Also referred to CNN]

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Article
25 October 2019

US Senate bill calls for ending sale of crowd-control munitions to Hong Kong

Author: Robert Delaney and Owen Churchill, South China Morning Post

US senators announced legislation… calling for a ban on sales of crowd-control munitions to Hong Kong law enforcement services…

Introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, the bill would prohibit US companies from exporting so-called non-lethal crowd-control items – including tear gas, pepper spray, batons and rubber bullets – to Hong Kong, where local police have been battling protesters pushing the city’s government to implement electoral reforms.

The act mirrors bipartisan legislation in the House of Representatives, called the PROTECT Hong Kong Act, which passed on a voice vote.

The Senate bill already has the bipartisan backing of a dozen other senators, including Republicans Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Rick Scott of Florida and New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand…

An investigation by Amnesty International USA in July found that Hong Kong police were sourcing much of their munitions from American manufacturers. Citing incidents in which the police have allegedly flaunted the usage guidelines for such equipment, activists in the city have called on the US government to implement an export ban for months, while lawmakers have appealed directly to members of the Trump administration to review export controls.

 “It is unacceptable that US equipment is being used by Hong Kong police in the violent suppression of free speech,” Blackburn said in a statement issued jointly by the bill’s backers…

The bill would require the administration to prohibit the issuance of export licenses for munition sales to Hong Kong within 30 days of the legislation’s passage…

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Article
14 October 2019

Apple CEO Tim Cook defends decision to remove Hong Kong mapping app in memo to staff

Author: South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

“Apple CEO Tim Cook defends decision to remove Hong Kong maps app in memo to staff:”, 11 Oct 2019

Apple CEO Tim Cook defended the company’s decision to remove a mapping app in Hong Kong…

Apple pulled HKmap.live from its App Store… after flip-flopping between rejecting it and approving it earlier… Apple made the decision after consulting with local authorities, because it could endanger law enforcement and city residents. Cook echoed that sentiment in an email to Apple employees.

“Over the past several days we received credible information, from the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau, as well as from users in Hong Kong, that the app was being used maliciously to target individual officers for violence and to victimise individuals and property where no police are present,” Cook wrote in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News. He also said the app violates local laws.

The company has been criticised for the move, and Cook addressed that. “These decisions are never easy, and it is harder still to discuss these topics during moments of furious public debate,” the CEO wrote. “National and international debates will outlive us all, and, while important, they do not govern the facts. In this case, we thoroughly reviewed them, and we believe this decision best protects our users.”…

Google… confirmed… that the HKmap.live app is still available in the Play app store in Hong Kong. However, the internet giant removed a mobile game from the store for “attempting to make money from serious ongoing conflicts or tragedies.” The game let players pretend to be Hong Kong protesters.

Charles Mok, a legislative counsellor in Hong Kong, said he was “deeply disappointed” by Apple’s move and contested the company’s reasons in an open letter to Cook.

“There are numerous cases of innocent passers-by in the neighbourhood injured by the Hong Kong Police Force’s excessive force in crowd dispersal operations,” Mok wrote in the letter, which he posted on Twitter. “Information shared using HKmap.live in fact helps citizens avoid areas where pedestrians not involved in any criminal activities might be subjected to police brutality.”…

 “We disagree with Apple’s claim that our app endangered anyone” in Hong Kong, the developer said in a statement…

[Also referred to National Basketball Association, Activision Blizzard]

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Article
14 October 2019

Google pulls Hong Kong protester game from store while Activision Blizzard removes pro-protest gamer from international tournament

Author: BBC (UK)

“Google pulls Hong Kong protestor game from store”, 11 Oct 2019

Google has removed from its app store a mobile game that lets people role play as a Hong Kong protester.

The tech giant says the app violated a policy against cashing in on conflicts, and the decision was not the result of a request to take it down…

The choice-based game, Revolution of Our Times, allowed users to play the part of a Hong Kong protestor.

Like real protestors, players could buy protective gear and weapons, but they could also be arrested and even extradited to China…

In a statement, Google said the game was removed because it violated Google Play's policies.

"We have a longstanding policy prohibiting developers from capitalising on sensitive events such as attempting to make money from serious ongoing conflicts or tragedies through a game," Google said.

Google noted it had pulled apps previously for attempting to profit from other high-profile events such as earthquakes, crises, suicides and conflicts.

The move comes just days after an online gamer from Hong Kong was removed from an international tournament for the game Hearthstone because he expressed support for the protestors during a livestream.

Activision Blizzard said the gamer, identified as "Blitzchung", had violated rules and would not be allowed to play in any Hearthstone e-sports games for the next 12 months.

The company said the competition rules banned any behaviour that might cause public disrepute or offend a portion or group of the public.

The official Chinese publication the Global Times said Chinese social media users thought Activision Blizzard's move was an example of "how to be responsible in the Chinese market," but move has drawn protest on social media elsewhere, with many gamers calling for a boycott of Blizzard…

Chinese tech company Tencent owns a stake in Activision Blizzard…

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Article
14 October 2019

Hong Kong: Epic Games expresses support for players who speak about human rights, after Blizzard bans pro-protest player

Author: Independent (UK)

“Blizzard Boycott: Fortnite creator says he won’t punish players for supporting human rights”, 11 Oct 2019

The creators of Fortnite have said they will support players who choose to speak out about human rights, after fellow video game developer Blizzard banned a player for supporting pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

The hashtag #BoycottBlizzard began trending across social media… after the firm banned professional gamer Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai from an eSports tournament.

Blitzchung had worn a gas mask and and goggles in a post-match interview during a Hearthstone Grandmasters competition. He told the interviewer: "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age."…

In response to Blitzchung's ban, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney said on Twitter: "Epic supports the rights of Fortnite players and creators to speak about politics and human rights."

Mr Sweeney faced criticism from some Chinese Twitter users, who claimed that the developer of Fortnite was taking sides.

"Epic supports everyone's right to speak freely," he responded. "China players of Fortnite are free to criticise the US or criticise Epic just as equally as all others."

He added: "Epic doesn't take a position on politics and we don't endorse players' political views. We just seek to be neutral and non-judgmental of players, and hope everyone reaches an amicable conclusion."

Blizzard, which is part-owned by Chinese tech firm Tencent, justified its decision to remove Blitzchung from the tournament by claiming he broke competition rules.

"While we stand by one's right to express individual thoughts and opinions, players and other participants that elect to participate in our eSports competitions must abide by the official competition rules," the firm said in a statement.

The rules state that "engaging in any act that, in Blizzard's sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a position or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the players' prize total to $0."

The controversial move also sparked a backlash among Blizzard's own employees, with some reportedly walking out following Blitzchung's ban.

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Article
11 October 2019

Hong Kong: Swedish tech firm Yubico donates security keys to protest movement to protect vulnerable internet users

Author: Karen Zhang, South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

"Swedish tech firm Yubico hands Hong Kong protesters free security keys amid fears over police tactics online", 10 Oct 2019

A Swedish tech company renowned for encryption has donated hundreds of security keys to Hong Kong’s protest movement after an activist sought help in repelling police online.

Sherry Chan Yuen-yung said in a Facebook post that Yubico had sent her 500 of its Yubikey devices after she wrote to the company requesting support in upgrading demonstrators’ cybersecurity.

Yubico, set up in 2007, is best known for its signature invention Yubikey, which can be used for two-factor authentication for computers, networks and online accounts.

The key plugs into the USB or lighting ports of computers and mobile phones.

In response to the Post's inquiry about Yubico’s donation, the company said: “Yubico has a long-standing mission to ensure that people at high risk are protected online.

“The company works with many non-profit organisations dedicated to an open internet and free speech.”

… Chan said: “Amid grave concern over the online security of protesters in the face of aggravating police abuse of power, we contacted Yubico in August, hoping that they would kindly sponsor Hong Kong protesters with their feature product.

“It was to our surprise [the company] swiftly responded and mailed us 500 Yubikeys in no time.”…

There have been growing concerns online about the digital safety and data privacy of protesters…

Eric Fan Kin-man, a councillor of the trade association Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, believed as a piece of hardware, Yubikey offered a stronger form of protection than online versions…

However, he pointed out the key would not be helpful if police asked protesters to unlock phones protected by biometrics, such as fingerprints or facial recognition…

[Also referred to Telegram]

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