Hong Kong police arrest six people for 'seditious' Facebook posts

Tiananmen vigil organizer Chow Hang-tung is among the arrestees, the first under the Article 23 security law.
By Edward Li for RFA Cantonese and Chen Zifei for RFA Mandarin
2024.05.28
Hong Kong police arrest six people for 'seditious' Facebook posts Chow Hang-tung, vice-chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, is seen inside a vehicle after being detained in Hong Kong, China, Sept. 8, 2021.
Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Police in Hong Kong on Tuesday arrested jailed human rights lawyer Chow Hang-tung and five other people — the first arrests to be made under the recently passed Article 23 security law — for making social media posts with "seditious intent" ahead of the anniversary of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square massacre.

National security police in the city arrested five women and one man aged between 37 and 65, for suspected violations of Section 24 of the Safeguarding National Security Ordinance, which deals with offenses related to "seditious intent," according to a statement on the government website.

The events of the spring and early summer of 1989 are still a hugely sensitive topic in China, where public discussion is heavily censored and public mourning for victims is banned. Tuesday's arrests suggest that similar political sensitivities are now being applied to Hong Kong.

Secretary for Security Chris Tang later confirmed to journalists that Chow, who is currently awaiting trial at the Tai Lam Centre for Women under a separate security law, was among the arrestees.

When asked to clarify whether it's now illegal under the Article 23 security legislation to mention the anniversary or the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, Tang claimed it wasn't, and that only mentions deemed to "incite hatred" of the authorities would be regarded as criminal.

Screenshot from the Chow Hang-tung Club Facebook page showing recent posts marking the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. (RFA)
Screenshot from the Chow Hang-tung Club Facebook page showing recent posts marking the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. (RFA)

However, neither he nor any of the journalists present at the briefing mentioned June 4, 1989, or the Tiananmen massacre by name, referring to it as "the sensitive date."

The police statement said the arrests were based on "seditious" social media posts.

"Police investigations revealed that a woman who is currently in custody, through the other five arrested persons, has been anonymously posting seditious posts on a social platform page since April 2024, taking advantage of a sensitive date that is approaching, with the intention of inciting hatred among the public against the Central Government, the [Hong Kong] Government and the Judiciary, and intending to incite netizens to organize or participate in illegal activities," the police statement said.

Police also searched the homes of the five people accused of helping Chow make the posts, which Tang said were posted to the Chow Hang-tung Club Facebook page.

"The general public must ... not be deceived by false and distorted content or even incited to take part in illegal activities and behaviors that could threaten national security," the police statement said.

Photos and memories

Since April, Chow's Facebook page has displayed a different set of photographs and memories relating to commemoration of the 1989 pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square and the subsequent crackdown by the People's Liberation Army on unarmed protesters and civilians, using machine guns and tanks, each day.

The arrests came after the latest post showed the "Goddess of Democracy" statue — a replica of the one seen on Tiananmen Square in 1989 — referring to its prominent display in 2010 outside the Times Square shopping mall, on several university campuses and at Victoria Park, where the now-banned candlelight vigils for the massacre victims were held for more than three decades.

"Dedicated to the students on hunger strike in the square and to the pro-democracy movement, the Goddess of Democracy is a symbol of the student protest movement," the post said. "Once upon a time, the Goddess of Democracy could be seen [in parks and universities], but today she has disappeared."

"Another goddess of democracy wearing a gas mask appeared in Hong Kong in 2019," the post said in a reference to the Lady Liberty effigy that came to symbolize the 2019 protest movement against the erosion of Hong Kong's rights and freedoms. 

The Chow Hang-tung Club Facebook page. (RFA)
The Chow Hang-tung Club Facebook page. (RFA)

"That has also disappeared," the post said, referring to a citywide crackdown on public dissent, including symbols and images of the protest movement, under the 2020 National Security Law.

Behind bars since September 2021, Chow faces a potential 10 years in jail if convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” in a trial that is expected to begin in late 2024. She has already served a 15-month jail term relating to the 2021 vigil.

The overseas-based Hong Kong Democracy Council said via its X account that the arrests are the first under the Article 23 legislation.

It said Chow's Facebook page has been "making daily posts about #June4 in HK down through the years since Apr 30” across 35 days, one for every year that has passed since the massacre.

"If HK national security police believe the posts to be "seditious," why've they waited a month to act?" the group wanted to know.

The hugely controversial Article 23 legislation prompted global protests and warnings of an extended crackdown from rights activists when it was passed on March 23.

Hong Kong lawmaker Paul Tse, who was among dozens of pro-government legislators who voted in favor of the Article 23 Safeguarding National Security Ordinance, removed posts from his Facebook page for fear that comments he had posted there earlier could be used to prosecute him under the new law.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Roseanne Gerin.

POST A COMMENT

Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.