Translated by: Kenny Choi
Editor note: This article, originally published in inmediahk.net tells significant issues on free speech at Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and Macao.
At the beginning of the year, the Office for Personal Data Protection of Macau government issued the Guidelines on Publication of Personal Data on the Internet. In addition to include individual identification information, private life, medical records and other information as “personal data”, the guidelines also consists of “data revealing philosophical or political beliefs, political society or trade union membership, religion and racial or ethnic origin.” The Guideline states that except the consent of the litigants has been acquired or their information been published, any sensitive information cannot be publicized. Daily practice on the internet today could infringe Personal Data Protection Act. Therefore people who concern with freedom of speech requested amendment of the Guidelines.
Before Easter holiday in April, the advertising company for MTR, Omnicom Media Group (OMD) wrote to various media requesting that negative news on MTR cannot be reported. Otherwise MTR could cancel the advertisement orders. This ultimatum to the media sparked a shock to the public. The acting chief executive officer of MTR H.K. Ho subsequently made a declaration to clarify that OMD had mistakenly interpreted the stance of MTR. He apologized for the incident and reinstated that there was no intention to suppress the freedom of press. Nonetheless, the public was still awestricken.
In May, the Pan-democrats demanded the authority for the upholding of freedom of press and the right of expression under the principle of One country two system. Unfortunately, the motion that condemned MTR for canceling advertisements and one that advocated the compliance to International Covent on Civil and Political Rights were objected by the functional constituencies under the “split voting system”. The only amendment that was passed was the motion that pledged for the protection of press freedom according to the Basic Law.
The father of Firewall of China, Fang Binxing, is the principle designer for the core part of GFW. News about Fang being thrown at with shoes was widely circulated in weibo.com. The phrase “Fang Binxing” instantly became a “sensitive word” on the internet and was not searchable in search engines and weibo.com in the mainland. Some internet surfers said Fang “built walls” to circumscribe China; only to wipe out his own name at the end, which became a joke. This justified the absurdity of the system of “sensitive world”.
At the same time, Hong Kong government published in June on Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2011，which forbid the exemption of derivative works as not being infringing. Spoof on the internet might possibly lead to criminal liability, which was dubbed as the internet version of Article 23. The bill is still in consultation stage. Views from internet users are therefore welcome.
In June, The legislative Yuan of Republic of China internal administration committee passed in its first instance the cancelation of article 2 and 53 of Civil organization act. They states that civil organization and their activities shall not advocate communism and splittism. Number 644 of Justices of the Constitutional Court, Judicial Yuan, explains that these acts violate the principles of the constitution that protects the freedom of organization and freedom of speech. Therefore, they should be canceled so as to lead Taiwan back to the right track for freedom of speech. This should be the only good news in 2011.
China continued suppression on human rights activists by jail, house arrests, persecutions and other means to force people to shut up and to stop voicing out for injustice. These people included, Zhao Lianhai, organizer of the advocacy group for the victims of melamine milk, jieshibaobao (Stone Babies), Ai weiwei, a Chinese artist and cultural commentator who was accused for the “economic crime” of tax evasion after he had been arrested and detained for more than a month, which provoked support from in- and outside China; and Chan Guangcheng, a blind activist from Shandong China who suffered from house arrest after the completion of his nine month sentence.
Although demonstrators in Hong Kong have still not been arbitrarily detained, the use of pepper spray and arrested under unlawful assembly by the police has been increasing since Tsang Waihung, the hawkish commissioner of Police assumed office. 113 people were arrested on 6th March at the demonstration against The Budget, including two male children aged 12 and 13. The questions doubting if power of the police is too large or if the police intended to use arrests to suppress the freedom of speech and assembly of demonstrators should not be ignored. In August the “818 HKU Curfew Incident” occurred when Li Keqiang, first vice premiere of the People’s Republic of China, visited Hong Kong as the police set up a number of “core security zones” to exploit the rights of demonstrations and protests of the students of The University of Hong Kong. Two months later, Professor Tsui Lapchi, the vice chancellor, announced he would not renew his appointment with HKU. A resident in Laguna City in Lam Tin wearing a T-shirt that showed the words “Vindicate June Fourth“ was taken away by an unknown person in black. At the same time, policemen stopped reporters from shooting. At a lot of situations only official press was allowed to report and only government press releases were announced. This aroused concerns over official press taking over mass media. Two days later The Hong Kong Journalists Association organized a demonstration voicing the protection of freedom of press and speech.
In October, ATV gave an incorrect report on the death of former president of China Jiang Zemin’s death. Rumours about ATV top official interfering the editorial independence of the news division circulated. At the end, ATV news chief Leung Kawing, resigned.
In November, Lau Waihing, the vice chairperson of Democratic Party, lodged a motion to defense the freedom of press. She criticized the government’s restriction on news reporting and various measures such as the substitution of press conference by “briefing meeting” to control publication of information. She feared the crack down on the freedom of speech and press. But the motion was vetoed by the joined objection and abstains of the pro-government parties. The RTHK Director of Broadcasting was taken over by former administrative officer Roy Tang Yunkwong. Two months later RTHK wanted to revolutionize its programmes and noticed two hosts for current affairs programmes, Ng Chi Sum and Chow Yung, that their contract would not be renewed. Readers can recapture the feature we made for Ng Chi Sum at the beginning of the year. It tells how he had been attacked openly in the special column of Wenhui bao, a pro-China newspaper. Now he lost the chance of voicing out through the radio. Perhaps after this success of forcing Ng away, the crave for more actions grew. Wenhui bao then turned to Dixon Ming Sing, an associate professor of The University of Science and Technology. This has raised further concern on the matter.
The new edition of Taiwan
While Beijing, Macau and Taiwan governments were amending the regulations for broadcasting, publication, press and the internet, Hong Kong government conducted a legislative consultation on stalking. The consultation period ended on 31st March. The paper states that “Stalking may be described as a series of acts directed at a specific person which, taken together over a period of time, causes him to feel harassed, alarmed or distressed.” If the act was passed, would demonstrators be arrested when they direct their petition towards particular government officials or when reporters continuously cover them and other business magnates? The government currently has not yet intended to give defence to news reporting activities. Therefore the act was satirized as the “23 article of the journalism”. Would this act be a segmentation of the 23rd article that caused uproar in the public and that which the government was forced to withdraw? A close eye from different social sectors must be kept on this, which should likely be the first major issue concerning freedom of speech in 2012.