Targeted activists vow “the voices of Hongkongers will never be eliminated”

Pro-democracy activists exiled from Hong Kong will never be silenced despite attempts by the Chinese Communist Party to use transnational repression against them, an urgent press briefing held at the UK House of Commons on Wednesday heard.

This is despite what some are calling a “Chinese fatwa” which has seen the Hong Kong Police Force issue arrest warrants againt eight activists, including Christopher Mung, Finn Lau and Nathaw Law in the UK, and others in the US, Canada and Australia. The authorities have also offered rewards of up to one million Hong Kong dollars for information leading to their capture.

Mung and Lau both spoke at the briefing, which was chaired by Bob Seely MP.

Mung stressed the repercussions of the long reach from the authorities, but vowed he will never be silenced.

He said: “The Chinese and Hong Kong governments are extending their hands abroad, suppressing freedom of speech and silencing activists with a chilling effect.

“But they will never eliminate my voice, or the voice of Hongkongers. For the rest of my life, us Hongkongers will fight together.”

Lau said it wasn’t the first time the CCP had tried to exert transnational repression of speech in the UK, citing the harassment of protestors outside the Chinese consulate in Manchester by staff in 2022.

He also issued a set of demands to the British government in response to the warrants. These included an urgent meeting with both the British foreign and home secretaries, as well as calling for legal action against anybody in the UK who passes on information about the activists for reward.

“We simply need concrete action and measures to tackle this,” he said.

Mark Clifford, president of the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation, went as far to call the warrants and bounties a Chinese “fatwa”.

He said: “The CCP and their enablers in Hong Kong have crossed a red line here. What they’re saying is democracy is illegal around the world under their National Security Law.

“We need actions because China will keep pushing, and pushing, and pushing.”

When asked why the warrants and bounties were issued now, Lau said that any guess is just speculation.

He continued: “Personally, I think it’s just simply a way of discouraging Hongkongers from fighting for their democracy and speech in the future.”

Benedict Rogers, chief executive of Hong Kong Watch, which monitors freedoms and human rights in Hong Kong, recounted attempts by the CCP to repress his own freedom of speech, while acknowledging these have been less severe than those now faced by the eight activists.

“About a year ago I received a letter from the Hong Kong police informing me that what I do with Hong Kong Watch in the UK violates the National Security Law in Hong Kong, and I could face a prison sentence there,” he said.

“I’ve also received anonymous threatening letters from Hong Kong, some even posted to my mother.”

Finishing off the session, Mark Clifford said that the battle with the CCP’s repression will be a long-term struggle, and to ensure talk of damaging trade relations doesn’t affect it.

“It’s an evil, evil country; and we must remember our values are just more important than economic commerce.”

Read our statement on the arrest warrants and rewards.

Wider definition of harm can be manipulated to restrict media freedom


Index on Censorship welcomes a report by the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee into disinformation and fake news that calls for greater transparency on social media companies’ decision making processes, on who posts political advertising and on use of personal data. However, we remain concerned about attempts by government to establish systems that would regulate “harmful” content online given there remains no agreed definition of harm in this context beyond those which are already illegal.

Despite a number of reports, including the government’s Internet Safety Strategy green paper, that have examined the issue over the past year, none have yet been able to come up with a definition of harmful content that goes beyond definitions of speech and expression that are already illegal. DCMS recognises this in its report when it quotes the Secretary of State Jeremy Wright discussing “the difficulties surrounding the definition.” Despite acknowledging this, the report’s authors nevertheless expect “technical experts” to be able to set out “what constitutes harmful content” that will be overseen by an independent regulator.

International experience shows that in practice it is extremely difficult to define harmful content in such a way that would target only “bad speech”. Last year, for example, activists in Vietnam wrote an open letter to Facebook complaining that Facebook’s system of automatically pulling content if enough people complained could “silence human rights activists and citizen journalists in Vietnam”, while Facebook has shut down the livestreams of people in the United States using the platform as a tool to document their experiences of police violence.

“It is vital that any new system created for regulating social media protects freedom of expression, rather than introducing new restrictions on speech by the back door,” said Index on Censorship chief executive Jodie Ginsberg. “We already have laws to deal with harassment, incitement to violence, and incitement to hatred. Even well-intentioned laws meant to tackle hateful views online often end up hurting the minority groups they are meant to protect, stifle public debate, and limit the public’s ability to hold the powerful to account.”

The select committee report provides the example of Germany as a country that has legislated against harmful content on tech platforms. However, it fails to mention the German Network Reinforcement Act was legislating on content that was already considered illegal, nor the widespread criticism of the law that included the UN rapporteur on freedom of expression and groups such as Human Rights Watch. It also cites the fact that one in six of Facebook’s moderators now works in Germany as “practical evidence that legislation can work.”

“The existence of more moderators is not evidence that the laws work,” said Ginsberg. “Evidence would be if more harmful content had been removed and if lawful speech flourished. Given that there is no effective mechanism for challenging decisions made by operators, it is impossible to tell how much lawful content is being removed in Germany. But the fact that Russia, Singapore and the Philippines have all cited the German law as a positive example of ways to restrict content online should give us pause.”

Index has reported on various examples of the German law being applied incorrectly, including the removal of a tweet of journalist Martin Eimermacher criticising the double standards of tabloid newspaper Bild Zeitung and the blocking of the Twitter account of German satirical magazine Titanic. The Association of German Journalists (DJV) has said the Twitter move amounted to censorship, adding it had warned of this danger when the German law was drawn up.

Index is also concerned about the continued calls for tools to distinguish between “quality journalism” and unreliable sources, most recently in the Cairncross Review. While we recognise that the ability to do this as individuals and through education is key to democracy, we are worried that a reliance on a labelling system could create false positives, and mean that smaller or newer journalism outfits would find themselves rejected by the system.

About Index on Censorship

Index on Censorship is a UK-based nonprofit that campaigns against censorship and promotes free expression worldwide. Founded in 1972, Index has published some of the world’s leading writers and artists in its award-winning quarterly magazine, including Nadine Gordimer, Mario Vargas Llosa, Samuel Beckett and Kurt Vonnegut. Index promotes debate, monitors threats to free speech and supports individuals through its annual awards and fellowship programme.

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Andriy Klyvynyuk voices support for Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia


Andriy Klyvynyuk (right) and fellow activist Eugene Stepanenko in front of a projection of Ai Weiwei’s freedom of expression symbol in London. Photo: Nicolai Khalezin

Ukrainian rock musician and activist Andriy Klyvynyuk spoke to Index on Censorship about his support for popular film director and pro-Ukrainian activist Oleg Sentsov and the other Ukrainian political prisoners held by Russia.

Klyvynyuk, the frontman of the pop group Boombox, was a speaker at Belarus Free Theatre’s Freedom of Expression in Ukraine event at the House of Commons in London, where he called on the British government to demand Sentsov’s release. Sentsov is serving a 20-year prison sentence on charges of being part of a terrorist conspiracy. He has stated that he was tortured by investigators and that a key witness recanted in the courtroom on the grounds that evidence had been extorted under torture. His lawyers describe the case against him as “absurd and fictitious”.

Sentsov faces another 18 years in jail but Klyvynyuk, who drove an ambulance during the pro-EU Euromaidan protests in 2014, is determined that Ukraine will continue to work towards a future free of Russian interference.

“We used to cry but now we are laughing because we are not afraid,” he told Index. “We are only 25 years old as a country, and we are at the very beginning of a road. We want to be open and don’t want to see a great wall. I don’t want to be a big star somewhere, having everything but not being able to travel, speak with you, and that was the point of Euromaidan. We are not for the money, the wealth, houses and cars – it’s not what we want, it’s not the point of life at all.”

According to Klyvynyuk, it is Russia that is afraid. “They are very frightened to lose their dominance, to lose their money, to lose their superpower, in such a way as our mafia lost their power,” he said. “The officials are so much afraid that they invaded an independent state.”

Other speakers at the House of Commons event included journalist and author Peter Pomerantsev, and film and theatre director turned soldier Eugene Stepanenko. A video was shown including messages of solidarity from artists including fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and actor Will Attenborough.

Klyvynyuk welcomed these contributions. Although he does not mix his art with his activism, he feels strongly that those with a public position have a responsibility to speak out on human rights abuses. Those who shut their eyes to it, he says, are “clowns dancing on the tables of dictators”.

“I’m a patriot of course but I don’t think Ukraine is bigger or better than any other country in the world,” he said, calling on the world’s media to refocus on Russia’s behaviour towards its neighbour. “This is why we talk about political prisoners all over the world and wars all over the world. But to forget about situations like that, then everybody says ‘Oh, how are you? Are you okay?’ three years later. I say ‘Hey, stop, you know nothing’, and if you are a media person, if you’ve got followers on your social media, if thousands of people are waiting to hear from you, you should find some time to tell these important things.”

As for Oleg Sentsov, Klyvynyuk’s message was one of hope. “I hope that he won’t be broken inside, I hope that he, all of them, will find strength to live through, and then after we win, go out and not just sit and do nothing but continue their work, what they are here for.”

Critics attack censorship on MPs’ expenses

The press and public have reacted with outrage after MPs were accused yesterday of a massive cover-up of their expenses after the Commons authorities released hundreds of thousands of claims documents and receipts with huge sections of detail blacked out. Read more here