The Hong Kong lawmaker passed a new law banning films deemed to violate China’s national security interests, the latest blow to freedom of expression in the territory.
Punishment for violating the law includes up to three years’ imprisonment and a $ 130,000 (£ 95,000) fine.
Critics say the legislation will stifle the vibrant local film industry.
Last year, China imposed a national security law on Hong Kong that effectively banned dissent.
The legislation, which came after massive pro-democracy protests in 2019, criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. Critics say it is meant to crush dissent, but China says it is meant to maintain stability.
The Film Censorship Act was passed by the Free Opposition Legislative Council. It gives the chief secretary – the second most powerful figure in the city administration – the power to revoke a film’s license if it is found to “endorse, support, glorify, encourage and incite activities that could endanger national security.”
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Experts and content producers have raised concerns about the impact of the legislation, which does not cover films posted online, on creativity and freedom of expression.
Director Kiwi Chow, whose documentary Revolution of Our Times on the 2019 protests premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this year, told Reuters news agency that the law “would worsen self-censorship and fuel fear among filmmakers. “.
A quick job
By Martin Yip, BBC News Chinese, Hong Kong
The bill was approved by simple show of hands at the last meeting of the Council’s current very extended mandate. And despite the lack of opposition in the legislature, lawmakers still argue.
Councilor Luk Chung-hung said it was the political films that hindered creativity, not the censorship bill. Another adviser, Priscilla Leung, who is also a law professor, insisted that the bill was in full compliance with human rights laws and hoped to prevent such films from “brainwashing” young people.
Directors will surely be worried. Dr Kenny Ng of the Hong Kong Baptist University Film Academy said the new law would see film distributors worry if their already approved films were withdrawn, which spells more uncertainty in the industry.
As for lawmakers, it’s time to get ready to get their jobs back as elections take place in December, with completely new electoral laws.
The art industry was already targeted even before the new law. In June, a local theater withdrew the award-winning documentary Inside The Red Brick Wall, also about the 2019 protests, and its distributor lost government funding.
Book publishers have admitted to self-censorship and the largest pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, closed earlier this year amid a national security investigation.
Meanwhile, many opposition figures are already in prison or in exile.
- Hong Kong National Security Act
- Hong Kong
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