Hong Kong’s freedoms are intact – there’s no need to be paranoid

Peter Kammerer reveals how a conversation with his son has reminded him that we are still free to speak our mind, within limits clearly set out, even in these politically charged times

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 December, 2016, 2:08pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 December, 2016, 6:42pm

Freedom of speech means being able to openly express opinions without fear of government punishment or censorship. Article 27 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law guarantees that right. Yet, there I was the other night, having a worried chat with one of my sons after overhearing a discussion about him going to a fan meet-up with the presenter of a popular YouTube channel, China Uncensored. I’d not heard the name before, but on checking it out, I figured now was a good time to get my offspring up to date with current events.

China Uncensored promises to bring viewers “the uncensored truth about the Chinese Communist Party’s secret plan to take over the world. Just kidding. Sort of ... ” Based in New York, it claims to be a non-profit organisation funded through donations. Presenter Chris Chappell informs people about mainland events, Hong Kong and Taiwan and other issues perceived as infringing the rights of Chinese. A recent posting is an interview with Joshua Wong Chi-fung, a key participant in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Occupy movement.

Watch: China Uncensored interviews Joshua Wong

My son had been invited by an acquaintance to a get-together with Chappell and other members of his team, who were in Hong Kong as part of a trip to the region, which also included Taiwan and the Philippines. He wasn’t interested, so didn’t go. But the fact he had been asked rang alarm bells. Soon, I was sounding out his knowledge of Wong, Youngspiration and independence seekers, the Legislative Council oath-taking fiasco and the bookseller saga.

I’m not one to bring my work home with me. Current events are not much discussed around the home, although my sons occasionally raise with me news items they get from their main news source, Facebook. I’d never sounded them out on their political views, and assume that like most twentysomethings, they veer towards the left and liberalism. Such a demographic fits the profile of our young political agitators.

Watch: Lau Siu-lai take the oath in slow-motion
Watch: Hong Kong localists rush into the Legco chamber to retake their oaths

Hong Kong government blocks questions from four Legco lawmakers facing judicial review

A few years ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about either of my sons meeting Chappell. But Beijing’s blistering attacks on the Occupy movement and citizens suggesting independence for Hong Kong, and the disregard for China by elected candidates to Legco when taking their oaths has changed the atmosphere. There’s an impression that discussion of independence is akin to a criminal act and democracy is a dirty word that can only be talked about in low tones, if at all. We have “one country, two systems”, but the sense is that Beijing calls the shots and isn’t afraid to interpret what that means, as it sees fit, and Hong Kong doesn’t have a say.

There’s an impression that discussion of independence is akin to a criminal act

So I had the discussion with my son, who made it clear he’s got no interest in politics. No, no, I told him, there’s nothing wrong with keeping informed and following what you believe, just be careful with what you get up to in Hong Kong’s politically charged environment. A little later, having thought about how I reacted, I realised that I was a touch paranoid. Hong Kong still has its cherished freedoms and only those who go out of their way to push the limits in a disruptive manner end up on Beijing’s radar. If we self-censor, it’s our own doing.

We still have, as the Basic Law promises, “freedom of speech, of the press and publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form trade unions, and to strike”. As in any society, rules and regulations are established to protect the public interest and the rights and reputations of others. The law lays out what those limits are.

We’ve no need to be worried; our freedoms are as intact today as they were on July 1, 1997.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post