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A man was arrested on charges of sedition in Hong Kong after playing the harmonica at a vigil for Queen Elizabeth II. A colonial-era law that once made insulting the queen illegal has now been revived by authorities amid an ongoing crackdown.
Videos posted on social media showed hundreds of people gathered outside the British consulate in the city on Monday night to pay their respects to the queen as her funeral took place in London, an event of high political significance in the former British colony, where the monarch has been mourned. become a subtle form of protest.
Many streamed the funeral procession live on their phones, while others held candles and laid flowers at a memorial site.
In one video, a man plays his harmonica to the tune of “Glory to Hong Kong,” a protest anthem created in the depths of the pro-democracy and anti-government protests that rocked the city in 2019.
The moving ballad, which includes lyrics such as “Hong Kong for, may freedom reign”, became an anthem for the pro-democracy movement and its performances have been viewed millions of times on YouTube.
At Tuesday’s vigil, the crowd waved iPhone flashlights in the dark and sang along with harmonicas, some starting the chant that has become synonymous with the protests: “Hong Kong, add oil.”
Afterwards, the photos show the policemen arriving and escorting the man to their van.
When CNN asked police about the harmonica player, they said a 43-year-old man named Pang was arrested that night around 9:30 p.m. bond pending investigation, police said.
He must report to the police at the end of November.
Hong Kong’s sedition law is part of a 1938 Crimes Ordinance that was once used by the colonial government to crack down on pro-China groups and publications, especially after the Chinese Communist Party came to power, and during anti-government protests in 1967.
It originally defined sedition as speech that led to “hatred or contempt” against the Queen, her heirs or the Hong Kong government.
The law lay dormant for decades until it was revived in 2020, with Beijing implementing a sweeping national security law that targets secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist activities.
A conviction under the sedition law carries a maximum sentence of two years.
The revival of the law – and its use by authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing amid a wider crackdown – has drawn criticism from activists and humanitarian organizations around the world.
In July, the UN Human Rights Commission called on Hong Kong to repeal the sedition law, saying it was concerned it could limit citizens’ “legitimate right to freedom of expression”.
The Hong Kong government has repeatedly denied that the sedition laws or national security laws – which have been used to arrest activists, journalists, protesters and former members of parliament – pose a threat to people’s liberties.
The sedition law “does not seek to silence the expression of any opinion other than genuine criticism of the government based on objective facts,” he said in response to the UN, adding that the national security law “has quickly and effectively restored stability and security.” ” after the 2019 protests.
The crackdown has seen a steady erosion of civil liberties in a freewheeling city that once boasted an independent press and a rich protest culture.
Most pro-democracy groups have been disbanded, their leaders imprisoned or forced into exile, and mass demonstrations are banned.
With no traditional means of protest – people have now been arrested for social media posts and even for publishing children’s books deemed seditious – the Queen’s death emerged as an unexpected opportunity for dissent this month.
In celebrating the monarchy and its symbols, some in Hong Kong see an opportunity to take a veiled dig at both the Chinese Communist Party, which has made no secret of Hongkongers’ desire to forget the era, and the local authorities, who have recently introduced school textbooks. that the city was not even claimed as a colony to begin with.
A retiree named Wing, who spoke to CNN outside the consulate on Monday but declined to give his full name, said it was “unbelievable” to be part of a mass gathering again.
“I feel angry that the Hong Kong government does not show proper respect (to the queen). They are afraid of the Chinese government speaking, but we were part of the colony,” said Wing, who was born in the 1960s.
The display of love is also a reminder of the pro-democracy protests in the city, where demonstrators took up the colonial flag as a sign of resistance against China’s one-party rule.
However, other critics have pointed out that even under British rule, Hong Kongers did not have universal suffrage. And many believe that London neglected its duty by not granting Hong Kong citizenship at the time of the handover, instead offering a limited passport that gave most of them no right to live and work in Britain.
Since the introduction of the national security law, Britain has created what it calls a pathway to citizenship through a new type of visa.