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Hong Kong to extend censorship law

August 25, 2021

The stricter law will target previously approved films. Showing a work perceived as a threat to national security can lead to a three-year prison sentence.

Three people watch a 3D movie wearing special glasses, sitting in rows of red seats.
How many films will be affected by the new censorship law?Image: Felipe Dana/AP/picture alliance

Hong Kong authorities have unveiled on Tuesday a new censorship law by which already-released films will also be scrutinized for content breaching the "national security law."

"Any film for public exhibition, past, present and future, will need to get approval," Hong Kong commerce secretary Edward Yau told news agency AFP.

Censoring China criticism

The law would allow authorities to censor content they perceive as promoting secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces. It aims to prohibit all forms of criticism of the Chinese government, which has been cementing its control over Hong Kong for the past two years.

Following Hong Kong's months-long pro-democracy protests in 2019 against the growing influence of mainland China, the China-imposed security law has allowed authorities to crack down on any activity believed to "threaten China's national security."

This led to severe restrictions on activities carried out by the democracy movement across academia, media and the arts.

Hong Kong's free press in peril

For example, "rules of conduct" for artists which have been in effect in China since March 2021 state that their work should express "love for the party and its principles" and serve "the people and socialism."

Muzzling Hong Kong's film scene

The announced measure is an extension of a law that had been announced in June, which targeted new releases only.

The broadcast of the Academy Awards was also banned in Hong Kong for the first time this year.

It is a tough blow for Hong Kong's historically prosperous film sector, which boasts renowned major studios and a thriving indie scene. Its most famous directors include Wong Kar-wai, Tsui Hark, John Woo and Stanley Kwan, while actors such as Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-fat, Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Maggie Cheung are also world stars.

The new law includes increasing the maximum sentence for showing illegal films to up to three years' imprisonment, along with a fine of a HK $1 million (around €110,000 / $130,000).

The new law still needs to be approved by the city's legislature. But as the local government has also been purged from any opposition over the past year, this step is seen as a mere formality.

eg/sb (AFP, AP)