By Kayla Ngai
HONG KONG – Hong Kong has recently been trying to gain independence from mainland China. During a dawn raid by the Hong Kong National Security Police unit on April 10th, Allan Au, a well-known Hong Kong journalist, was arrested for sedition charges. Under the colonial-era law, Au will face up to one year in prison if he is found guilty.
By its formal definition, sedition means any “incitement of discontent or rebellion against a government.” Although rebellion in general often leads to violence and doesn’t offer the most effective solutions for political corruption, I still believe that people should have the freedom to critique their government. Citizens should not be punished for expressing their opinions and Allan Au should not have been arrested.
China’s political history plays an integral role in setting the stage for Au’s arrest to happen. After the British relinquished their colonial control of Hong Kong back in 1998, tensions between Hong Kong and mainland China rose. At that point, Hong Kong had spent 99 years without being governed by the mainland, so the people had grown accustomed to a different type of leadership— one that was run by a capitalist economy and was starkly different from China’s communist government.
China’s criminal justice and judicial systems are generally more strict than in Britain. For instance, anti-government protests in 2019 increased due to the extradition bill that would send people from Hong Kong to be prosecuted for their crimes in China. This sparked outrage since China has a reputation for being especially unfair during its trials.
Under British rule, on the other hand, there was a more liberal standard of living. For example, freedom of expression was protected under the Human Rights Act of 1998 in the UK. Therefore, when the Taiwanese Times stated that “the arrest [of Allan Au] is the latest blow to the media in Hong Kong, which has seen its freedom rating plummet as Beijing cracks down on dissent,” they are indicating that China is infringing on human rights. Although the protests do cause disorder, I don’t think that censorship will solve the issue. In fact, more oppression from China will cause more civil unrest.
Allan Au was arrested for publishing seditious material along with being involved in Stand News, a democratic news outlet that was shut down in Dec. 2021. Along with Au, two other Stand News former employees were also charged with sedition. After Apple Daily (another prominent democratic news outlet) and Stand News were shut down, there was rising tension and threats to the lives of journalists. In response to the danger, Au kept posting “good morning” on his Facebook page to “confirm his safety.” This is disheartening. Nobody should have to do this when they lose their jobs. All journalists should be protected under the freedom of the press.
When he was arrested, Au was a consultant at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s School of Journalism and Communication. Au does have a history of judging his government. While he was a radio host (11 years) for RTHK, a public broadcaster, he did critical reports for Stand News on Hong Kong’s government, for which he was later fired.
Although the sedition law, under which Allan Au has been arrested, was first set up by the British government in 1938 to cement their colonial rule, it had not been utilized since the 1970s. China is reinforcing this outdated law to inhibit further uprisings for independence among Hong Kong citizens — almost as if it’s a colonial force now occupying the land. In May 2022, Hong Kong is said to receive a new appointed Beijing leader, former security chief John Lee, who was in charge of the crackdown on democratic protests. I don’t like the idea of John Lee being appointed. I am in favor of Hong Kong’s independence from the mainland and Lee’s promotion is just another way for China to silence and break down the communities in Hong Kong.
While I grew up in the United States where freedom of speech and expression is constitutional, I have family from Hong Kong whom I sometimes visit. China’s censorship is not new to me, but like Russia, I think that the country feels threatened by NATO and democratic influences, which is what forces its government to take stricture measures on its citizens. If there is more NATO influence in the east, there would be an imbalance of power. So, China’s afraid of losing control to a more democratic mentality. Allan Au and other journalists, however, should still not have been arrested for their publications, especially considering how outdated the sedition law is.
China’s citizens should be able to talk freely about their government’s policies without being afraid for their lives. At this rate, as Hong Kong pushes more towards democracy, there will most likely be more riots, censorship, and outrage. While the people of Hong Kong lose their voices, it is up to other publications to speak up for them. Opinions and journalism matter because they help spark social change!