Chinese state media have accused an Academia Sinica research fellow of breaching Hong Kong’s National Security Law, becoming the first Taiwanese academic to be implicated under the legislation.
The pro-Beijing Hong Kong-based Ta Kung Pao in a full-page spread on Thursday rebuked the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong (FCC) for allegedly inciting sedition through its Human Rights Press Awards.
The awards — organized every year since 1995 by the FCC along with the Hong Kong Journalists Association and Amnesty International, which closed its Hong Kong offices last year — recognize journalists for human rights-related reporting around Asia.
Photo: Yang Yuan-ting, Taipei Times
Last year, Wu Rwei-ren (吳叡人), an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Taiwan History, won a merit award in commentary writing for a Chinese-language piece titled “For an Unfinished Revolution” in The Reporter supporting Hong Kong protest movements.
Ta Kung Pao targeted the article, saying that it “incites hatred toward the country.”
Citing a legal expert and retired lawyer, the paper accused Wu, an “agent of Taiwanese independence,” of breaching security law provisions against subversion of state power and secession, punishable by more than 10 years in prison.
It also called for the organizers of the award to be investigated for incitement, accusing the FCC of committing six crimes.
When reached for comment, Wu on Saturday said that the threat follows the usual Chinese Communist Party (CCP) strategy for ousting undesirable elements.
“The CCP’s trilogy begins by selecting targets through state-friendly media, followed by arrests by Hong Kong police and finally convictions,” he said.
The point of the accusations is to dissolve the journalists’ association and expel the FCC from Hong Kong in the wake of recent news outlet closures, he said.
The CCP wants to use him as a tool to incriminate the organizers of the awards and intimidate international academics, Wu said.
The CCP might have intended a chilling effect, “but this would only have the opposite effect, triggering an even bigger backlash,” he added.
As the National Security Law is nonretroactive, it technically cannot be used to prosecute Wu for his article, which was published in February 2020, while the law was passed in June of that year, Wu said.
However, Hong Kongers have been arrested for past speech under the law, he said, showing that authorities are treating it as retroactive.
The law also includes a muddled definition of the basic legal principle that people cannot be prosecuted for something that is not prohibited by law, or nulla poena sine lege, leaving space for prosecuting a writer who publishes in a country where freedom of the press is observed, Wu said.
“These accusations are absurd and show that laws enacted by the CCP are vastly different from those in democratic countries,” he said.
The implications for jurisdiction are also troubling, as “declaring jurisdiction over me implies that they claim jurisdiction over all foreign academics,” Wu added.
The accusation against Wu lends credence to the fear of many Taiwanese that past remarks made in support of Hong Kong protesters could be used against them if they travel to Hong Kong, he said.
“This shows that Taiwanese are all targets of the security law, are all in danger,” he added.
Beijing has been known to kidnap dissidents outside of Chinese borders, Wu said, adding that he would be careful to avoid Chinese spheres of influence when attending international conferences.
The caution is not unwarranted based on experience, Wu said.
When he was invited to give a lecture to a Malaysian human rights organization in September 2019, during the protests against a proposed extradition law in Hong Kong, he was monitored continuously by agents sent by the Chinese embassy, Wu said.
“From the time I landed to when I flew back, the event organizers sent several people to accompany me to ensure my safety,” he added.
Calling himself unimportant, Wu urged the government to take the Chinese threat seriously and not make light of people’s safety.
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