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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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1 October 2019

Hong Kong: Unions say at least 26 Cathay staff were fired in protest-linked terminations

Author: Hong Kong Free Press

"Sacked Hong Kong Cathay staff decry ‘Cultural Revolution’ purge", 1 Oct 2019

Former Cathay Pacific staff who say they were fired for supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters accused bosses… of carrying out a “Cultural revolution” style political purge.

The Hong Kong-based airline has had a torrid few weeks after Chinese state media and authorities blasted the company because some of its 27,000 employees had taken part in — or were sympathetic to — anti-government protesters.

China’s aviation regulator barred staff supporting protests from working on flights to the mainland or traveling through its airspace, setting off chaos inside the company…

In recent weeks staff have described deleting their social media accounts, fearful that colleagues might inform on them while Cathay announced it had sacked multiple staff linked to the protests.

… a group of former employees held a press conference alongside officials from the Hong Kong Cabin Crew Confederation and flight attendant unions. They said at least 26 people had been fired from Cathay in protest-linked terminations.

Hiding their identities behind sunglasses and face masks they described summary firings, often after being shown screengrabs of their Facebook and other social media posts.

“It’s regrettable to see Cathay Pacific encouraging staff to report and criticise (others) internally,” one woman, who gave her first name as Jackie, told reporters. “The situation is just like in the Cultural Revolution.” “Some crew were shown posts and updates on their private social media accounts and required to provide an explanation with evidence. Others were handed termination letters without any accusations,” she added…

In a statement, Cathay said it had to abide by all regulations placed on it in any jurisdictions where it operates, “including those prescribed by the authorities in mainland China”... 

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2 October 2019

YouTube pulls down video spoof of protest anthem ‘Glory to Hong Kong’ over copyright infringement accusations

Author: South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

The video-sharing platform YouTube… removed a controversial video version of the protest anthem Glory to Hong Kong with lyrics changed to be supportive of police and disparaging of the anti-government movement.

YouTube said on its website the music video was taken down because it “contains content from Goomusic, who has blocked it on copyright grounds”.

Goomusic is linked to Denise Ho Wan-see, a local singer and activist who has frequently joined pro-democracy protests in recent months. She also testified at a US Congress hearing about the political turmoil in Hong Kong.

A self-described pro-Hong Kong group, including pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, uploaded the new video… but it was removed by YouTube hours later.

The release triggered immediate outrage among fans of the original song, while a local lawyer said the rendition clearly violated the city’s copyright laws…

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4 October 2019

Hong Kong: Starbucks urged to end relationship with license owner Maxim's Group after founder's daughter spoke against protest movement

Author: Grady McGregor, Fortune

“Starbucks in Hong Kong: Caught in the Crossfire”, 2 Oct 2019

… Like many Hong Kong businesses caught up in the clashes between protesters and police and their negative effects on the local economy, Starbucks' storefronts are collateral damage in the battle over control of the island territory. But they are also an example of the delicate balance international chains must walk as they weigh Hong Kong's push for democracy against the opportunities in China's growing market.

In conversations with Fortune, several protesters who spray-painted one Starbucks location expressed anger not towards Starbucks per se, but at Maxim’s Group, which owns Starbucks licenses in Hong Kong and Macau…

In recent weeks, Maxim’s Group has come under fire for its perceived pro-Beijing ties, and specifically because the daughter of Maxim’s founder, Annie Wu, spoke out against the protest movement to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

“For the last 6 months, Hong Kong has become a place for riots,” she said in an interview with CGTN about the meeting while reiterating her support for the Hong Kong police force in helping “maintain law and order” in the city.

Through vandalism, boycotts, and other means, protesters have also targeted dozens of other Maxim’s shops as well as countless stores with explicit ties to the mainland, such as China Mobile and Bank of China.

Protesters have further ramped up pressure in recent days as Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong demanded that Starbucks “consider whether Maxim's truly represents the social values of Starbucks and terminate the [relationship with] Maxim's immediately.” He included a link to a petition that has collected nearly 55,000 signatures at the time of publication.

Both Starbucks and Maxim’s Group declined to comment to Fortune on the recent protests, though Maxim’s recently released a statement distancing itself from the controversy. “Ms. Wu is not employed in any position or capacity at the company,” the statement read…

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8 October 2019

Vans reportedly removes submission depicting Hong Kong protesters from design competition, sparking heated backlash and boycott

Author: Jordyn Holman, Bloomberg

“Vans Is Latest U.S. Company Caught Up in Hong Kong Protests”, 8 Oct 2019

… During its annual shoe-design competition that is currently underway, Vans reportedly removed a submission from its website that depicted both a flower symbol of Hong Kong and protesters wearing gas masks, goggles and hard hats. The move sparked heated backlash across social media. Some called for a boycott of the skateboarding shoe brand popular with young people after it pulled the submission.

In statement posted on its Facebook page, Vans said: “We have never taken a political position and therefore review designs to ensure they are in line with our company’s long-held values of respect and tolerance, as well as with our clearly communicated guidelines for this competition.” While it didn’t specify which designs it removed, the company said that “a small number of artistic submissions have been removed.”

Representatives from Vans and its parent company, VF Corp., didn’t respond to requests for comment…

Sneaker chain Dahood, which operates several Vans franchises in Hong Kong, wrote in a Facebook post… that it was suspending operations at three locations in the city “until further notice” because of “the controversy caused by the Custom Culture design competition held by Vans worldwide.”…

[Also referred to Starbucks Corp. and Levi Strauss & Co.]

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9 October 2019

NBA Commissioner defends freedom of expression while China halts broadcast of preseason games

Author: CNN Business

"China won't show NBA preseason games as backlash over Hong Kong tweet grows", 8 Oct 2019

China won't broadcast or stream NBA preseason games held in the country. It's a dramatic escalation of a political firestorm that began when the general manager of the Houston Rockets expressed support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

CCTV's sports channel said… that it had "decided to immediately halt" broadcasts of the basketball league's preseason matches in China after it expressed its "strong dissatisfaction" over NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's response to Daryl Morey's tweet. The broadcaster is also reviewing its wider relationship with the NBA.

Tencent (TCEHY), the NBA's exclusive digital partner in China, also said it would suspend live streaming for two NBA preseason games in China.

The controversy began when Morey tweeted his support for the demonstrations in Hong Kong… His post, which has since been deleted, included an image that read, "Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong."…

Those remarks led several Chinese businesses to suspend ties with the Rockets… That backlash triggered an initial response from the NBA… In a statement, the organization said that it recognized that Morey's views "have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable."

… Silver himself waded into the fray. He reportedly spoke to Kyodo News, a local news outlet in Japan, and issued a response to the blowback.

"I have read some of the media suggesting that we are not supporting Daryl Morey, but in fact we have," Silver told Kyodo News. "I think as a values-based organization that I want to make it clear ... that Daryl Morey is supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression."

In its decision… to halt NBA broadcasts, CCTV pointed to "the response of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in Japan."

"We express our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to Silver's stated support of Morey's right to free speech…" the network said. "We will also immediately examine all other cooperation and exchanges with the NBA."…

Silver responded to CCTV's decision at a press conference in Japan, calling it "unfortunate."

"It's not something we expected to happen," Silver told reporters. "But if that's the consequence of us adhering to our values, we still feel it's critically important to adhere to those values."…

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10 October 2019

Hong Kong: Apple removes police-tracking app over safety concerns

Author: CNBC (US)

“Apple removes police-tracking app used in Hong Kong protests from its app store”, 9 Oct 2019

Apple… removed an app that protestors in Hong Kong have used to track police movements, saying the app violated its rules because it was used to ambush police and by criminals who used it to victimize residents in areas with no law enforcement.

Apple rejected the crowdsourcing app, HKmap.live, earlier… but then reversed course… allowing the app to appear on its App Store. The approval drew a sharply worded commentary criticizing Apple in… the People’s Daily.

Apple said in a statement that “many concerned customers in Hong Kong” contacted the company about the mapping app. Apple said it immediately began investigating the app’s use and found it “has been used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong.”

“The app displays police locations and we have verified with the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau that the app has been used to target and ambush police, threaten public safety, and criminals have used it to victimize residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement,” the statement said.

Under Apple’s rules and policies, apps that meet its standards to appear in the App Store have sometimes been removed after their release if they were found to facilitate illegal activity or threaten public safety…

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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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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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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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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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