The multi-point attack against human rights throughout Hong Kong society marched on in June 2023 with arrests, media closure, anthem bans, frozen bank accounts, hacks and threats of yet more draconian legislation to come. Yet in the midst of the crackdown on freedom of expression, a sign reading “Glory HK” once again beamed defiance from Lion Rock, one of the most visible promontories in the city.
Inevitably, the month began with a tussle over the memory of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. Victoria Park, the traditional home of an annual commemoration vigil, was occupied by a carnival to promote Chinese products, as those police still willing to work for the detested force frisked nearby citizens, tracked artists through the surrounding streets, broke up prayer groups, impounded a car bearing a sensitive number plate that the city itself had issued and detained people for trumped up “offenses” like carrying an electric candle.
Over at the racetrack, however, horses with the number 8964 — symbolic of the year, month and day when the Chinese Communist Party slaughtered its own people in the center of Beijing — were backed to ensure that the date stayed visible, while citizens defied authorities in other ways: wearing T-shirts that made references to the killings; holding events all over the world in exile; or simply selling mnemonics in the face of intimidation. Prominent pro-democracy activist Tonyee Chow Hang-tung (鄒幸彤) conducted a hunger strike from her jail cell. The script of the play May 35th, whose title refers to China’s attempts to delete the real date of the killings on June 4th, was once again held and read, as has been a tradition.
Beijing and its Hong Kong proxies moved in other ways to eradicate evidence of their previous crimes and lay the groundwork for future ones. Around 250 books about Tiananmen or other politically charged topics were torn from library shelves, and an annual poll that canvassed opinions about the government reaction to the 1989 protests was abruptly canceled. Meanwhile, Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu (李家超) reacted to a rare court decision in favor of journalistic investigation by crowing — contrary to strong evidence — about judicial independence and simultaneously promising improvements to government systems, a move that will almost certainly expose reporters to more risk when tracking down truth, like changes that have already been tabled.
Within a few weeks, there were fewer journalists to experience Lee’s interpretation of rule of law anyway: A pirate station which had hosted numerous pro-democracy icons was crumpled by a bank account freeze, a now-familiar tool in the state’s repressive armory. Earlier in June, several members of the League of Social Democrats, a political party that challenges Beijing, had protested a similar fate: Their accounts were closed by Hang Seng, the Bank of China and HSBC — a London-headquartered bank that has already publicly backed the rights-eroding National Security Law, deprived fleeing Hong Kongers from pensions worth billions and participated in a meeting to advise Beijing of how it can sneak around sanctions if it one day invades Taiwan.
In education, children from elementary school upwards are preparing for summer holidays with National Security Education Summer Self-learning Materials to keep them busy during the “break,” a vision that Beijing seems to harbor for every person it defines as Chinese in the entire world. Upon return to their increasingly regimented and police-defined education system, they can expect to have learned the skill of knowing which bureaucrat said what tortuous twaddle on topics like Taiwan being forcibly blended with the People’s Republic of China.
Meanwhile, at the university level, Taiwanese scholars are now being subjected to grillings of up to six hours upon entry to Hong Kong, and spies suspected of working on behalf of China are hacking the email accounts of individual Hong Kong academics, according to Mandiant, a Google subsidiary specializing in cyber threat intelligence, which has discovered vulnerabilities in email screening technology. The latter news is chilling, especially since yet more security legislation is promised for Hong Kong in the next 18 months. Among other things, it will criminalize certain ties with foreign bodies, potentially echoing recent laws in China.
One of the major surprises with the promise of yet more legal tools is that authorities in Hong Kong still find it necessary to engineer illegality of more activities. After all, they already believe themselves to have the fine-line power to ban whichever song they want on a global scale. This month, the offending tune is “Glory to Hong Kong,” a protester anthem. Reassuringly, however, in similar fashion to the aforementioned sign on Lion Rock, it peaked the download charts after the government announced its intention and has returned to platforms like Spotify after a brief disappearance.