Opinion Politics & Protest

Come back George Orwell, we need you

It is said that people who hear that a loved one has a terminal illness go through five stages of grief, starting with denial – the assertion that this is not happening.

Something similar seems to be going on in the heads of those people who are inflicting terminal injuries on Hong Kong’s reputation as a haven of human rights in an otherwise dictatorial China.

Consider the government representative – as usual A. Spokesman – who put out a long comment on the disqualification of Mr Eddie Chu from a village representative election.

Eddie Chu

Eddie Chu. Photo: inmediahk.net.

Much of this was technical stuff about the justification provided by the Returning Officer who did the deed. This was of no interest and nobody believes it anyway.

At the end, though, we lurched into Wonderland, with this sentence: “There is no question of any political censorship, restriction of the freedom of speech or deprivation of the right to stand for elections as alleged by some members of the community.”

The reference to political censorship is a red herring. No member of the community has claimed political censorship was involved, and any who did so would be wrong. Political censorship is the prevention of the publication of disapproved views, and we are not there yet.

To claim there is “no restriction on free speech” involved, on the other hand, is to perpetrate a manifest untruth.

Enoch Yuen

Returning officer Enoch Yuen. Photo: GovHK.

In the light of Mr Chu’s case it is clear that if you express a certain opinion – in favour of independence – then you will suffer certain disadvantages: disqualification from running in any election, even a pipsqueak one for a rural minicommittee.

Indeed it appears that in his case disqualification followed not from advocating independence (which he had prudently avoided) but from expressing the belief that people who wished to advocate independence should be allowed to do so.

This is clearly a restriction on free speech. The expression of a particular view is discouraged by imposing unwelcome consequences on those who express it. There is no room for argument here. If “restriction on free speech” means what it says then it is present here.

A. Spokesman could have argued, if he or she wished, that the restriction is a trivial one. Independence is not a practical prospect for Hong Kong so preventing people from advocating it constitutes a minor contraction in the sphere of what can be discussed in public.

independence free speech rally benny tai

Photo: HKFP.

Or he might have argued that the restriction is a justified one, on the grounds that the advocacy of independence is inconsistent with the Basic Law. This would not cut much ice with constitutional lawyers but it would at least be coherent.

Instead we get flat denial. The fact is that freedom of speech in Hong Kong is now curtailed. You can call for the confiscation of wealth, capital punishment for homosexuals, the expulsion of Jews, the legalisation of paedophilia or the installation of pictures of CY Leung in the lower parts of all public urinals to aid accuracy. But you are not free to advocate independence because such advocacy earns a life ban from politics. Free speech is to that extent restricted.

Clearly we are in the same delusionary territory when we consider the spokesman’s claim that “there is no question of deprivation of the right to stand for election.”

Of course there is. How dumb can you get? Mr Chu wished to run for election. He is not allowed to do so.

George Orwell

George Orwell. Photo: British Library.

Once again we might have been offered the argument that some restriction of the right to run for election was justified, or even legally compulsory. This is a matter about which people could argue endlessly, particularly if they were paid by the hour, as senior lawyers often are.

But telling us that the right to run for election is not affected at all is a simple refusal to face reality. It is like saying black is white, up is down, death is life. The temptation to quote Orwell on “Newspeak” is almost irresistible. In fact it is totally irresistible.

According to the Ministry of Truth in “1984” Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength, and the aim of newspeak is to “make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it”.

Coming soon to a government press release near you: “A. Spokesman said that the recent Black Thunderstorm Warning from the Observatory had nothing to do with water falling from the sky, or loud noises and flashes of light being encountered, as alleged by some members of the community. The government remained committed to providing bright sunny weather at all times. And especially at night.”

Come back George Orwell, we need you