Freedom of expression is alive and kicking in the Special Administrative Region. Priyanka Boghani reports
Hong Kong, a former British colony, exercises its own legislation through an appointed government. It sits as a sky-scraping, stock-exchanging financial hub in Asia. It is also a country that promised sovereignty to its people even after it was handed back to China in 1997, with the “one country, two systems” formula, outlined in its mini-constitution by former Chinese leader Deng Xioping.
While Hong Kong is officially part of China, it very much represents the smaller but nonetheless, flip side of the RMB coin in terms of press freedom.
Two weeks on from when Hong Kong publishers launched Yu Jie’s book “China’s best actor: Wen Jiabao”, there have been no reports or violent reactions on the controversial book in Hong Kong.
In China, however, there were political pressures and threats of imprisonment. The book critiques “Grandpa Wen Jiabao” and his regime, calling him “fraudulent.” It says:
“Wen and Hu [Jintao, the Chinese president] are essentially the same. The difference is that Wen plays the softer or kinder part. They are like parents — one playing good guy, one playing bad guy, but the purpose is the same.”
Although he warned Jie of the great risk he is taking and a likelihood of punishment in the introduction of the book, the Hong Kong-based publisher, Bao Po from New Century Press published the book and launched it on 16 August.
The book is now on sale in 30 outlets around Hong Kong but not in big chain stores as it is waiting to be fully reviewed.
In Hong Kong, the law is clear. Bao Po told the Hong Kong newspaper, The Standard:
“We are a Hong Kong publisher. I just considered whether it was legal to publish it in Hong Kong.”
It is also not surprising that Han Han, a Chinese blogger considered popular for his critical take on current affairs and the editor of a new magazine called Party, could speak freely at Hong Kong’s book fair in July. A New York Times article reported that Han Han felt Hong Kong was a city where “you can say whatever you want” and has considered starting a Hong Kong edition for his bimonthly literary journal.
Most recently, following China’s battle with Google on censorship, search users are now directed to Google’s Hong Kong-based website.
However, while it retains its democratic stance, a recent report by the Hong Kong Journalist’s Association suggests that Hong Kong is grappling with China’s influence as it is reducing space for dissent and independent press in the former British colony.
“The Vice Tightens: Pressure Grows on Free Expression in Hong Kong” reveals many incidents of protestors arrested and scuffles between the police and demonstrators.
In June 2010 there was significant political tension when the Hong Kong and Chinese government accepted a proposal concerning the election method of five constituency seats in Hong Kong’s legislative council in 2012. While it is seen as paving the way to universal suffrage that was originally promised in 2004 for the 2007 chief executive election by Beijing, the process raised concern about China’s growing influence.
Hong Kong has had to deal with protests regarding its constitution and the way its government is elected, in the past. In September 2002, the government drafted the Article 23 however after an estimated 500,000 people took to the streets on the sixth anniversary of the handover protesting against the law, two cabinet members resigned and the bill was shelved.
HKJA say, “These incidents give a taste of the political atmosphere in Hong Kong – an atmosphere in which… there is growing intolerance of dissent and greater emphasis on social harmony – a catch phrase used in mainland China to denote adherence to the Communist Party line.”
According to an interview between the former governor Chris Patten and the local Hong Kong newspaper, The Standard, the judicial system and courts have retained their independence. The rule of law, free flow of information and basic human rights are still intact.
In accordance to Article 26 of the Basic Law of the HK SAR, permanent residents are eligible to vote for 30 seats in the 60-seat Legislative Council. Hong Kong and China have promised its citizens universal suffrage for the Hong Kong election of the chief executive in 2017 and for legislative council in 2020.
It is also worthy of noting that every year, Hong Kong hosts a vigil at Victoria Park in memory of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 (another taboo topic in China).