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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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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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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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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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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