New security law threatens Hong Kong’s freedom of speech, warns PEN in Scandinavia

11 June 2020

China’s Legislative Assembly, the National People’s Congress, approved on May 28 the plan to pass a security law for Hong Kong. The decision has generated strong reactions, not least from Hong Kong’s own population. The British response has been particularly strong. Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997. China and the United Kingdom agreed that Hong Kong should gain self-governing status in the Chinese People’s Republic, and that Hong Kong should retain its economic and political system for 50 years after the transfer – that is, until 2047.

The policy was called “One country – two systems”.

With the new Security Act, the Chinese authorities are breaking this agreement. This is the reason for the unrest that has haunted the region in recent years. Citizens were assured that they would be allowed to keep their freedoms, but instead they felt that China was constantly intervening in governance and gradually narrowing their freedom of expression. Writers, artists, journalists and academics now feel unsafe. In 2016, several bookstores were abducted by Chinese security agents, the Swedish-Chinese bookseller and publisher Gui Minhai are still incarcerated in China, he was sentenced to ten years in prison in February this year. Hong Kong’s large academic environment is also met by Chinese demands to show “responsibility” and to act “patriotic”.

The new legislation will prevent “separatism”, “rioting”, “terrorism”, “treason” and “foreign interference”. In addition, China is allowed to set up its own security agencies in Hong Kong. With the help of new technology, the management in Beijing will be able to monitor each individual inhabitant of the former crown colony.

Norwegian PEN, Swedish PEN and Danish PEN are deeply concerned about developments in Hong Kong and the consequences of the new law. We stand in solidarity with everyone working for freedom of speech in Hong Kong.

In addition to the United Kingdom, the EU and a large number of other countries, such as the United States, Canada and Australia, have clearly distanced themselves from China’s attempts to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Norwegian, Swedish and Danish PEN encourages the governments of the three countries to present a joint condemnation of the new legislation created to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and stifle Hong Kong’s freedom of expression.

Kjersti Løken Stavrum, President Norwegian PEN
Per Øhrgaard, President Danish PEN
Jesper Bengtsson, President Swedish PEN

11th hearing of the case against Önderoğlu, Fincancı and Nesin

From left: Hege Newth, Ingeborg Senneset, Baturay Göksular, Marianne Østergaard, Anders Heger, Erol Önderoğlu, Elisabeth Löfgren, Natalie Arien, Berna Akkızal Özfilizler and Froukje Santing

«This trial is about criminalizing and silencing journalism. There is no proof against me»

In a small court room in Istanbul, Erol Önderoğlu stood his ground against the charges made against him.

Today was the 11th hearing. On trial are Reporters Without Borders representative and IPI member Erol Önderoğlu, Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation Chair, Şebnem Korur Fincancı, and journalist Ahmet Nesin. The latter two could not make their statements in today`s hearing.

The three defendants are charged with «engaging in propaganda for a terrorist organisation», «incitement to commit a crime» and «praising criminal activities and those engaged in them». For what? A solidarity act – acting as guest editors in the «Editors-in-Chief on Watch» solidarity campaign for the shuttered pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem.

One single day as a guest editor have cost several journalists and editors days, months and years of uncertainty, waiting for the court to decide their fates. Freedom is on trial.

The judges all seemed young and inexperienced. This is a common and very serious problem in Turkey, hence thousands of judges and other academics are dismissed or have fled the country.

«I doubt you are very well informed in human rights,» Önderoğlu told the judges.

Approximately 75 journalists, freedom of speech activists, international and national observers attended the hearing. Not all could fit in the few seats reserved for observers, and waited in the hallway as Önderoğlu finally got to deliver his statement.

This very strong defense speech will be published in English at as soon as the translation is completed.

The hearing was over in under an hour. Norwegian PEN met with Erol Önderoğlu, who is tired, but determined.

«Many of my colleagues have spent months and months in prison. At least I`m outside. But I am not free. After waiting more than two and a half years, it was a relief for me to express myself to the court. It’s very important to me that the court actually take my message into consideration, even if any independent practice in the terms of judiciary is highly unlikely.»

The case is now postponed to 17 July. Postponements are also a way of tiring out both defendants and the public.

Istanbul, April 15th 2019.