Hong Kong has been subtly tweaking the way it describes its national security law in a way that could point to broader crackdowns, Bloomberg reports.
Authorities in Hong Kong have recently started using the phrase "contrary to the interests of national security" to describe violations of its national security law after previously warning against anything that would "endanger national security," according to Bloomberg. Joseph Cheng, an activist and retired political science professor, explained to Bloomberg that this could point to an expanded application of the law.
"The scope has been broadening," Cheng told Bloomberg. "And people feel under pressure for doing something totally harmless and totally professional."
According to Bloomberg, the new phrasing first started to notably appear last month, when the government proposed amendments to the Film Censorship Ordinance stating that censors must "consider whether the exhibition of a film would be contrary to the interests of national security," whereas they were previously asking censors to consider whether a film would "endanger national security." Georgetown University Center for Asian Law's Tom Kellogg noted to Bloomberg that there would be a lower bar to censor movies that "merely run contrary" to the government's interests, as opposed to being a direct national security threat, and that this could be applied to other areas like regulating the internet.
Overall, Jerome Cohen, founder of New York University School of Law's U.S.-Asia Law Institute, told Bloomberg that the language could allow officials in Hong Kong to "arbitrarily" expand what is considered a security law violation. "I would not underestimate the importance of 'guidance' in determining the meaning to be legally attached to ambiguous terms," he explained. Read more at Bloomberg.