Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying defends arrests at indie club Hidden Agenda
Chief executive says government ‘must consider safety of buildings’ users’
Hong Kong’s top official has defended the arrests of several foreign musicians and the founder of an indie club, saying the city’s rules on immigration and safety at industrial buildings must not be ignored.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was speaking for the first time since immigration and police officers raided Hidden Agenda, a venue in Kwun Tong, on Sunday night.
Seven people were arrested, including the club’s founder, Hui Chung-wo, and three members of British band This Town Needs Guns and an American musician from the group Mylets.
They were all released on bail and told to report back to authorities next month.
The club’s future is now in doubt, with allegations that it held live shows without a public entertainment licence. The musicians were suspected of having breached their conditions of stay in the city by performing without work visas.
The club said it had faced “increasing” rejections of work visa applications for previous foreign bands, and that it did not lodge an application for the musicians in this case.
Hidden Agenda said it paid the musicians’ agent a show fee of US$2,000 (HK$15,600), and it spent an extra HK$12,000 on general allowances and accommodation for the acts, but no money went directly to either band.
Pan-democrat legislators and cultural critics on Monday said the incident showed the government was not genuine about promoting the city’s culture and the revival of industrial buildings.
But Leung dismissed the accusations, saying: “[Revitalising industrial buildings] does not mean that you can use the venues however you like. We must consider the safety of users.”
He added that the government had stopped other unlawful use of industrial spaces in the past, even in buildings under the revitalisation programme.
“Under our immigration policy, anyone who comes to Hong Kong must obtain a work visa,” he said.
Since 2010, the government has been encouraging landlords to turn factory buildings into non-industrial spaces.
But Hidden Agenda has had to relocate four times after several run-ins with different government departments over various licensing issues.
In a statement last night, the club said its founder Hui was among those charged with obstructing public officers and for aiding and abetting breach of conditions of stay, among several offences.
It also claimed that as a result of the raid and arrests it had been dealt a fresh blow after the Immigration Department vowed to scrutinise every future act that the club invited to the city.
“The situation is dire ... and we are exploring what to do next,” the club said.
This Town Needs Guns and Mylets in a joint statement called on authorities to give creative work and performances “greater room to flourish”.
On an RTHK programme on Tuesday, Ma Fung-kwok, a proestablishment lawmaker representing the culture and performing arts sector, and Adrian Chow Pok-yin, an Arts Development Council member, both called for more leeway when it came to processing visas for foreign performers.
Visitors working illegally in Hong Kong face up to two years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of HK$50,000 on conviction, while employers are subject to a maximum of three years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to HK$350,000.