Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing camp lashed out at an opposition-leaning union on Wednesday for holding a private screening of a documentary chronicling one of fiercest clashes of 2019’s social unrest, with one politician even accusing it of violating the national security law.
The Confederation of Trade Unions last week invited its members to a showing of Inside the Red Brick Wall, an account of the often violent 13-day stand-off between police and anti-government protesters holed up at Polytechnic University in November of 2019. The film had previously drawn the ire of the pro-Beijing press, which accused it of glorifying violence, prompting some arts centres to cancel screenings.
The camp renewed its outcry on Wednesday, claiming the union had violated the Beijing-imposed national security law by spreading anti-China sentiments and inciting terrorism, with the union responding by accusing its critics of launching a Cultural Revolution-style purge and pointing out that the film itself had not been banned.
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The latest row was sparked by a front-page story in the pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao, which reported the confederation had held an “underground screening” of the documentary at its Jordan offices attended by some 20 of its members. In fact, the union had promoted the screening on Facebook.
The paper also reported that the Hong Kong Journalists Association had planned to hold a similar screening in a Kwun Tong industrial building next Saturday.
Lawmaker Holden Chow Ho-ding, of the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, soon waded into the fray, accusing the organiser of breaching provisions of the national security law imposed on the city last June.
“The Confederation of Trade Unions is trying to promote sentiments to subvert the Chinese government and [encourage] violent protests by screening the ‘black violence’ film,” he said, using a term for the anti-government protests that is popular among the establishment. “It is nasty for them to poison our next generation with this.”
Chow pointed out that the security law outlawed activities that support, incite or promote terrorism and severely violent acts, and urged authorities to launch a criminal investigation into the screening.
But Mung Siu-tat, the confederation’s CEO, hit back at the critics, and defended his organisation’s right to show the film.
“The documentary is not banned in the city, so what’s wrong with us showing it to our members?” Mung said, accusing the pro-Beijing camp of seeking to “create a white terror, and to smear anyone who is a thorn in their side”.
He also called it ridiculous for Chow to accuse them of inciting violence, noting the film was merely a documentary and featured a range of voices.
Mung said his group had no plans to call off two upcoming screenings later this month, one of Inside the Red Brick Wall and another of Taking Back the Legislature, a documentary about protesters’ storming of the Legislative Council on July 1, 2019.
“We will not back down because of these groundless accusations or else the freedoms we have in Hong Kong will continue to shrink,” the unionist said.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association, meanwhile, also took aim at Ta Kung Pao’s “biased” report in a statement, slamming the paper for depicting a “normal activity” as a clandestine exercise.
It went on to note that Hong Kong residents’ freedom to engage in academic research, literary and artistic creation, and other activities were enshrined in the Basic Law, and dismissed accusations that showing the film constituted a breach of the national security law.
Still, the association said it had been forced to cancel the screening in the wake of the report as it could no longer guarantee the safety of attendees.
Inside the Red Brick Wall has touched a nerve among authorities and the pro-establishment camp since its release last year.
In deciding to rate the documentary “adults only”, the film classification authority demanded the addition of a warning stating some of the acts it depicted “might constitute criminal offences”.
Earlier this year, extensive attacks by several pro-Beijing media outlets spurred Golden Scene Cinema, the Hong Kong Arts Centre and the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre to either scrap screenings of the film or cancel bookings made by its distributor.
However, the film has been shown to private audiences over the past year, with organisers of the screenings obtaining the film from the distributor.
One audience member who watched the documentary last month said the screening had been arranged in a secret location in an industrial area, and they were only given the address two hours before the show.
“I guess it’s because the organisers didn’t want to make a fuss, as the movie was considered sensitive,” the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Post. “But as long as the movie was not banned by the government, I don’t think it’s a problem to watch it.”
Vincent Tsui Wan-shun, artistic director of Ying E Chi Cinema, which distributes Inside the Red Brick Wall, defended the documentary as unproblematic, adding they were still looking for opportunities to publicly show the film.
The award-winning documentary would be shown at different film festivals in South Korea and Europe in the coming months, he added.