Illegal Film Screenings to Be Punished With Three-Year Jail Terms Under Hong Kong Censorship Law

Hong Kong skyline
Courtesy of Celestial Tiger Entertainment

Hong Kong is to introduce a new film censorship law that could send anyone responsible for illegal screenings to jail for up to three years. Offenders could also be liable to a HK$1 million ($128,000) fine.

The new law is intended to codify national security concerns that were introduced into the city’s film classification ordinance as recently as June.

The moves were announced by the government’s commerce secretary Edward Yau at a press conference on Tuesday.

As well as codifying the Film Censorship Authority’s powers and duties regarding national security, the new law will allow the government to appoint an official representative to the Board of Review and do away with non-official members.

It will also cancel a film distributor or exhibitor’s right to appeal against a board decision if the decision is made on national security grounds.

Although the government has said that the July 2021 National Security Law does not have retrospective effect, the new film censorship law appears to have retroactive impact and undo existing classifications of past titles.

It will “empower the Chief Secretary for Administration to direct the Film Censorship Authority to revoke certificates of approval or certificates of exemption previously issued for films if their exhibition would be contrary to the interests of national security.”

That means that films such “Ten Years,” a dystopian portmanteau film made in 2015 that predicted how everyday Hong Kong life would under the yoke of mainland Chinese rule, could soon be banned.
Hong Kong has witnessed unprecedented social and political turmoil since mid-2019 when the government attempted to introduce a law allowing extradition to mainland China. After a year of civil disobedience and violent clashes between police and pro-democracy forces the mainland government silenced protests by injecting the National Security Law into an annex of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.

Since that time, the city’s election and education systems have been upended and a trades union disbanded.

In the entertainment and media sector, pro-Beijing media have pressurized exhibitors to cancel screenings of a documentary about the 2019-20 protests, the public broadcaster RTHK has been neutered and the city’s leading pro-democracy newspaper has been bankrupted.

The film censorship law will receive a first and second reading in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council on Wednesday next week (Sept. 1). Opposition politicians have all resigned, meaning that the pro-government majority is certain to get its way.

Yau said the law was necessary for “more effective fulfilment of the duty to safeguard national security as required by the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, as well as preventing and suppressing acts or activities that may endanger national security.”