Political dark arts live on in Hong Kong with bogus banners designed to shame lawmakers

Lawmaker Cheung Chiu-hung considers police complaint after becoming latest target of fake signs

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 April, 2016, 1:07am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 April, 2016, 2:17pm

Counterfeit touts and fakers of brand-name goods for which Hong Kong is infamous have just been joined by an unlikely “new kid on the block” – bogus banner hangers schooled in the political dark arts.

In a city where everything from umbrellas to the act of shopping itself has taken on a political hue, professionally made political banners – designed to look like the official campaign material of their intended target – are appearing in busy shopping and business districts across the city.

Yesterday, the hothouse political atmosphere in the run-up to key elections later this year showed no sign of cooling as Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung became the latest victim of the banners in the city, which branded him the “Father of Refugees”.

The bogus banners, which appeared designed to fuel anti asylum-seeker and refugee sentiment, and rubbish the pro-democracy politician’s sympathetic stance on the issue, could now become the subject of a police investigation.

Cheung said he had always fought for greater support for underprivileged and marginalised people, including refugees, and was considering making a formal police complaint because the banners had illegally used his name and his party’s endorsement.

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“Smear tactics are used during political campaigns, but to post counterfeit banners like these is quite rare because it involves an illegal act,” Cheung said.

This is not the first time bogus political banners have appeared in recent months. They were discovered during the New Territories East by-elections in February. Civic Party member Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, the target of the banners at that time, was depicted him in a negative light as a “lawyer to rioters” because of his pro-bono work done for some Occupy Movement protesters and alleged Mong Kok rioters.

Yesterday, more than 10 banners in Chinese and English, carrying Cheung’s name and photo, plus the name of the Labour Party, appeared in Mong Kok, Tsim Sha Tsui, Central and several other locations in the city.

They referred to Cheung as the “Father of Refugees” and the “fight for better welfare for refugees of South Asia”, written both in English and Chinese, and listed hotline telephone numbers.

Cheung said there had been a public smearing campaign against ethnic minorities and asylum seekers over the past few months, with some local newspapers labelling them criminals and “fake refugees”.

The lawmaker, who is outspoken about human rights and social issues including protection for the elderly and disabled rights, said he had always taken a humanitarian approach regarding the issue of asylum seekers.

“It is true the government has been terrible in protecting and providing basic needs to people who are facing persecution at home and have come to Hong Kong,” Cheung said. “I won’t stop advocating for better support for them.”

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Apart from media reports, some pro-business politicians have also jumped on the bandwagon by suggesting that detention camps be built to house all asylum seekers.

The asylum seeker issue was famously brought to the forefront of public discussion after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said publicly in January that Hong Kong would pull out of the United Nations Convention Against Torture “if needed” – a statement criticised by rights activists as a regressive move in terms of human rights.

This was followed by media reports that focused on crimes committed by ethnic minorities and asylum seekers, as well as what the government claimed to be a rise in the number of torture claimants.

The government has also been criticised for its flawed screening system, which Leung said was under review at the time he made his comment about withdrawing from the convention.

In March 2014 there were 6,699 outstanding applications on asylum and torture grounds, but this had risen to 10,922 by the end of last year.

The city technically does not take in refugees, as it is not a signatory of the UN Refugee Convention, but it does screen both torture claimants and those seeking asylum.