News Register for our weekly news digest here.

Hong Kong’s Shouson Theatre. Photo: Hongkongartscentre/Wikipedia Commons.
Hong Kong’s Shouson Theatre. Photo: Hongkongartscentre/Wikipedia Commons.

Hong Kong Passes Hardened Film Censorship Law

Hong Kong on Wednesday passed a strict film censorship law allowing authorities to ban past films that they perceive as a threat to national security and to impose stiffer fines on those they deem to be breaching the law. The toughened rule reflects the fast-growing restriction of artistic freedom within the special administrative region in the wake of the 2019 demonstrations there, in which millions took to the streets to protest a proposed bill allowing the extradition of fugitives to Taiwan.

Films and documentaries have been among the targets of Hong Kong officials in recent months, during which enforcement of Hong Kong’s security law, imposed by the mainland’s National People’s Congress in 2020, has increased exponentially. In June, city authorities announced that all forthcoming films would be scrutinized by censors ahead of release; the law passed yesterday allows for examination of films already in progress as well as all those extant. If censors deem a given film to contain material that threatens national security, Hong Kong’s chief secretary is authorized to yank the screening license for that film. Anyone showing it would then be subject to maximum penalties of up to three years in jail and a HK $1 million (US $129,000) fine.

Film censors may without warning or warrant enter any premises suspected of showing unlicensed movies. Those whose films are judged a security risk will not be able to appeal the ruling via ordinary routes but instead must through a long and costly process obtain a judicial review within the Hong Kong court system. Lawmakers in support of the mainland government argued that the law does not go far enough, as the wording may leave out streaming platforms such as Amazon and Netflix. According to the AFP, Hong Kong commerce secretary Edward Yau sought to assuage their fears, contending that the new security law would apply to both physical and online distribution.

Since the imposition of Hong Kong’s 2020 security measures, which the BBC cast as “effectively outlawing dissent,” the situation has grown so dire that last week Amnesty International shuttered its Hong Kong outpost, Deadline points out. The human rights organization lamented that increasing strictures made it “effectively impossible” to operate in the city “without fear of serious reprisals from the government.” The art market there continues to be overheated, as evidenced by the emergence of Hong Kong as a contemporary art capital second only to New York (witness top auction house Christie’s expansion in the city). Given the rapidly chilling effect of censorship, however, its continued ascendancy seems by no means guaranteed.