A Hong Kong language group shuts down after police allege one of its essays breached security laws

HONG KONG (AP) — A group that promotes the Cantonese language shut down Monday after Hong Kong authorities said a fictional essay depicting a decline in liberties in the city on the group’s website violated the national security law, in the latest example of the city’s erosion of freedom of expression.

Andrew Chan, chairperson of the Societas Linguistica Hongkongensis, said in a Facebook post that national security officers visited a home where some of his family members live without a search warrant last week when he was out of town. The officers asked him to remove the essay from his group’s website immediately, he said.

Chan said he decided to halt the operation of his association due to the legal risks and a lack of resources.

“I am so shocked and I still cannot believe it’s happened,” he said in an email to The Associated Press. He also said he was sad to see that even though he was running something “only related to arts and literature," he was still "targeted by the national security police.”

Police declined to address the matter directly in an emailed response to a request for comment, but said that any moves by police were taken according to the circumstances and the local laws.

After Beijing imposed a national security law in Hong Kong in 2020, following massive pro-democracy protests, dozens of civil societies have disbanded and more than 260 people have been arrested. The shutdown of Chan’s group showed that the crackdown on dissidents has been expanding to cultural activities.

The fictional article in question is about a Hong Kong-born man who had emigrated with his parents to the United Kingdom when he was young and revisited his birthplace, according to a webpage archive provided by Chan. It was written by a third party who used their pen name.

In the article, the government changes the names of places to erase colonial elements and suppresses religious freedoms. It ends quoting a famous phrase by late Czech writer Milan Kundera: “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

Chan said he had been running the group to promote the mother language of many Hong Kongers for 10 years. The Facebook page of the group has 57,000 followers.

Chan said he believed it was the basic right for Hong Kongers to promote their own language and culture, and the group could help foster social harmony. But the action of the authorities proved that his belief was wrong “at least in their eyes,” he said.

“It is a pity that we could not continue since we have contributed a lot to Cantonese affairs,” he said.

While most classes in Hong Kong’s schools are still taught in Cantonese, many have added Mandarin to their curriculum as Hong Kong government promotes integration with the mainland.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to China in 1997 and was promised that its Western-style civil liberties can be kept intact for 50 years after the handover. Critics say the freedoms promised to the financial hub have greatly declined after the enactment of the security law.

The Hong Kong government says the law has helped restore stability and warned against acts of “soft resistance.”