Hong Kong’s National Security Law has had a “chilling effect” on the territory in the year since its passage, with more than 60 percent of Hong Kongers expressing doubts about their future, the Mainland Affairs Council said on Tuesday.
The broad rules have left few segments of Hong Kong society untouched since becoming law in June last year, the council said in a report marking the 24th anniversary of the territory’s handover to China.
The US-based Freedom House in March gave Hong Kong the worst rating in the history of its Freedom in the World report at 52 points, ranking “partly free,” due mainly to the security legislation, the report said.
Germany’s Global Public Policy Institute and Reporters Without Borders similarly downgraded the territory in their respective reports on academic and press freedom, it added.
Although relatively few people have been arrested under the security legislation, the scope of those prosecuted for speech from prior to the law’s passage — from politicians to academics and journalists — has produced a “chilling effect,” the council’s report said.
The press especially is facing “unprecedented political violence,” including with the redefinition of “media representative” to only recognize workers of media outlets registered with the government, it said.
Next Digital has emerged as a victim of the security legislation, as police have used it to prosecute owner Jimmy Lai (黎智英) and Apple Daily executives, it said.
The closure of the Apple Daily on June 25, shortly after the government froze its assets, has “sounded a death knell for press freedom in Hong Kong,” it said.
Many news firms have chosen to stay silent, leading to the closure or removal of content from online publications such as Stand News, Winandmac Media and Post 852, the council said in the report.
Meanwhile, increasing numbers of academics critical of Beijing have been dismissed or forced out since last year, it said.
Some have even seen their teaching qualifications revoked for disseminating content in support of independence, it added.
Changes to the education curriculum in February also outlawed political activities on campuses and banned teachers from discussing their political views, while mandating education about the security law to more than 8,000 students, it said.
Fear over reporting by students is likely to deepen self-censorship on campuses, the council said, adding that some academics are also considering cutting back on international exchanges.
Censorship has even extended to the Internet and the arts, drawing an ambiguous red line that would stifle creative freedom, it added.
The Web site HKChronicles, which publishes personal information of police officers and pro-Beijing figures, was reportedly shuttered by Hong Kong security forces with cooperation from Internet service providers, the council said.
Pro-China media have also criticized the Hong Kong Arts Development Council for funding “reactionary” works of art and the M+ museum for exhibiting works by Ai Weiwei (艾未未), it added.
Changes announced last month to the Film Censorship Ordinance would ban films that “endanger national security,” it said.
Public gatherings have also been halted, including the annual Tiananmen Square Massacre candlelight vigil that had been held every year for three decades, it said.
Even freedom of movement could be affected, as the passage in April of changes to immigration regulations would grant authorities the power to bar individuals from entering or leaving the territory when it goes into effect on Aug. 1, the council added.
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