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Hong Kong, once the most vibrant and creative film production hub in East Asia, is set to institute tougher censorship and production laws for new films released in the city as well as retroactively vet films previously cleared for release for breaches of the territory’s national security law.
The new censorship rules give Hong Kong’s censor wider powers and also increases the maximum penalty for unauthorized screenings to three years in prison and a $128,000 (HK$1,000,000) fine.
The changes proposed to the Film Censorship Ordinance, set to be tabled next week, are yet another measure that will undermine artistic freedom in the semi-autonomous city, and give further credence to critics of the Hong Kong government who fear full China-style political and cultural censorship.
Increased censorship is also a new front in the Hong Kong government’s ongoing crackdown on political dissent in the city that has seen pro-democracy newspapers, trade unions and various other opposition groups forced to shut down as welll as the arrests of dozens of activists.
The South China Morning Post reports that Hong Kong’s Commerce Secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah announced the new censorship plans on Tuesday. “The amendments this time are simple and straightforward. The aim is to consolidate our legal foundation regarding film censorship work so as to prevent acts against national security,” Yau said.
He added: “Under the proposed legislative amendments giving the chief secretary power to revoke the certificates of approval previously issued for films, there is a chance that past movies could be banned from public screening.”
The stricter scrutiny of previously licensed films could see a number of political films and documentaries about Hong Kong banned and potentially have repercussions for streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon. Films such as the Netflix doc Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower and the anthology drama Ten Years, also streaming on Netflix, would fall foul of the city’s new censorship rules given their avowedly political and pro-democracy content.
The commerce secretary said there would be no appeal mechanism for films bans due to national security grounds, moreover, the censor can delay the vetting of films for up to 28 days if necessary.
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