All seven people arrested during Sunday night’s raid on Hong Kong live house Hidden Agenda were released on bail the following evening, as the British performers who were detained lamented the city’s “extremely difficult” creative environment.
The three members of UK outfit This Town Needs Guns (TTNG) and the sole US member of Mylets wrote in a Monday night Facebook post that they are allowed to leave the city, but must return in June to report to the Immigration Department.
Hidden Agenda founder Hui Chung-wo was also released, but must also report to the police next month. He was welcomed by dozens of music fans after spending almost 20 hours in detention. The independent venue’s Facebook page said that another staffer and an audience member were also released.
On Sunday night, immigration officers posed as concert-goers at the Kwun Tong industrial building venue. As the concert ended, the officers asked to conduct an investigation. Police then received a report of fighting, and officers armed with riot shields and police dogs arrived on the scene.
The Immigration Department told HKFP that the four overseas musicians are suspected of breaching their conditions of stay.
Hui said outside Kowloon Bay’s immigration offices that he was charged with aiding and abetting the unlawful employment of tourists, employing illegal workers, failing to inspect a job seeker’s identity card, and not keeping employment records. Earlier, police had charged him with obstructing an officer.
Police told HKFP that the other two Hongkongers were charged with obstructing an officer and common assault respectively.
Under the Immigration Ordinance, breaching conditions of stay in Hong Kong carries a maximum fine of HK$50,000 and two years’ imprisonment. An employer who unlawfully employs an immigrant faces a maximum fine of HK$350,000 and three years’ imprisonment.
Obstructing a police officer carries a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment, while common assault carries a maximum one-year jail term, according to the Offences Against the Person Ordinance.
‘Extremely difficult for musicians to thrive’
The members of TTNG will depart from Hong Kong to the UK as scheduled on Tuesday, while Mylets will leave for the US via mainland China on Wednesday.
“After last night’s event, we have learnt that it is extremely difficult for musicians to thrive in Hong Kong,” they said in a joint statement. “It requires an incredible amount of strength and passion to persevere.”
“Hong Kong as we know as an international city with freedom and diversity, should give greater room for creative works and performance to flourish.”
The bands did not rule out playing future concerts in the city, but said they hoped to see music lovers rather than law enforcement in attendance. They thanked their legal teams and the Hong Kong legislators who supported them.
First of all, we would like to thank our fans for their love and support, Hong Kong Legislators and legal team for their…
Pro-democracy lawmaker Jeremy Tam arrived on the scene in Kwun Tong as the musicians were arrested on Sunday night. Fellow legislator Tanya Chan – a barrister – and solicitor Ng Gene Bond provided them with legal support.
‘Save Hidden Agenda’
Meanwhile, dozens of music fans and artists protested outside Kwun Tong Police Station on Monday evening, where the three Hongkongers were held before their release.
Singer Leung Wing-lai of experimental local band An ID Signal led the demonstrators in a chant: “Save Hidden Agenda.”
“Among Hong Kong’s organisations, which one has been prosecuted with so many different laws?” asked Leung. “From noise, to Food and Environmental Hygiene Department licenses, to land lease violations… this all stems from the Hong Kong government’s lack of understanding for what a live house does.”
After he was released, Hidden Agenda founder Hui said that Hong Kong’s licensing regulations appear deceptively lenient: “But when [the authorities] want to arrest you, they can arrest you in every possible way.”
Hui cited immigration officials as having suggested to him during his detention that work visa regulations would be “constantly enforced” in the future with regards to artists in industrial buildings.
Earlier in the day, legislator Tam told the media he believed that the Immigration Department has changed its policy on issuing work visas over the past few months – denying entry to artists scheduled to perform in industrial buildings.
The Civic Party lawmaker speculated that the refusal of visas was caused by the department’s fear of “getting into trouble” within the government bureaucracy for not implementing regulations to the letter of the law.
Hui also apologised to the members of TTNG and Mylets for their experiences in the city, calling the episode “the shame of Hong Kong.”
As a unit in an industrial building, Hidden Agenda officially operates as a food factory, having obtained a license from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. However, the department has not approved its applications for a place of public entertainment license.
The venue has been subjected to numerous raids at each of its four locations since its establishment in 2009, primarily related to violations of the terms of its industrial land lease.
RTHK reported on Monday night that the Lands Department would impose an encumbrance upon the Kwun Tong unit – an order threatening a government takeover of the property from its landlord.
Several performances – including by overseas artists – have been scheduled at Hidden Agenda until June.
Sunday night’s arrests attracted attention from international media outlets such as the BBC.