Hong Kong police chief warns viewers to avoid documentary about city’s social unrest over concerns of possible national security violations

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Hong Kong’s police chief has warned people not to watch or download a film about the city’s 2019 anti-government protests if they are unsure about the potential legal risks posed by the Beijing-legislated national security law.

Commissioner of Police Raymond Siu Chak-yee told the Post in an interview on Monday that his officers had watched the documentary, Revolution of Our Times, when it first appeared on the American streaming platform Vimeo on June 1.

The title of the 2½-hour documentary uses part of the signature protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times”, a phrase which is considered a violation of the national security law that was implemented in June 2020.

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But the commissioner remained tight-lipped about whether the film itself and its production team had violated the law or whether the force’s National Security Department was looking into the matter.

When asked if viewers could face legal risks by downloading, watching or sharing such materials, Siu said: “If they’re not sure whether this would commit [offences under] the national security law, then I would advise them to try to distance themselves from doing such acts.”

What protest film Revolution of Our Times does and doesn’t show

While he did not comment on individual cases, the police chief added that determining whether a person had broken the law would depend on their actions and intentions.

“If he or she intends to endanger national security, then don’t do it or else we will come and get you,” he said.

Legal experts had been divided earlier on whether such acts could breach the national security law. One argued that the legislation required a person to be “knowingly and intentionally assisting or encouraging” an offence, but agreed people could still be targeted by a public order law or film censorship regulations.

Another said the broad nature of the law’s provisions could theoretically cover all kinds of screenings, whereas reposting a link of the film on social media or renting a place to show the documentary would certainly be troublesome.

The film, priced at US$11.29 for rent and US$18.89 for purchase, has been available worldwide since last Wednesday on Vimeo, a platform which is banned in mainland China, but not Hong Kong.

While residents enjoyed freedom in Hong Kong, the police chief said it was not an absolute right, reiterating that endangering national security was a serious offence that could risk life imprisonment.

“Freedom is not absolute. You should not just talk about your own freedom. You have to talk about the freedom of others – whether your acts will affect others’ rights and freedom as well. So you have to abide by the law,” Siu said.

The documentary was screened at the Cannes Film Festival last July and won the prize for best documentary at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards four months later.

The film has not been shown in Hong Kong despite being screened in several countries, including Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Separately, Siu defended several arrests made in connection with the commemoration of the anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown.

Sections of Victoria Park, which was previously the site of an annual candlelight vigil, were closed off to the public on Saturday for a second year, after police arrested a man a day earlier over online calls to attack officers on the anniversary of the incident.

The force also arrested another six people on June 4 for offences including allegedly inciting others to participate in an unauthorised assembly and possession of an offensive weapon.

Amnesty International slams arrest of 6 by Hong Kong police on June 4

Siu said officers had acted in accordance with the law, adding that he would not rule out closing off parts of the park next year if people continued to incite others to break the law, as the force was duty-bound to protect the safety of others.

“People are trying to make use of this platform in order to incite others to stage unauthorised assembly. There is a possibility of some people committing or trying to commit violent acts, we cannot neglect this possibility,” he said

In an effort to strengthen the intelligence-gathering capability of the police, Siu urged residents to act as the force’s eyes and ears by reporting any suspicious matters to the new counterterrorism hotline, which will launch on Wednesday.

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