Hong Kong police arrest man playing harmonica at Queen’s wake on suspicion of sedition

Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in CNN’s news bulletin Meanwhile in China, a tri-weekly update exploring what you need to know about the country’s rise and its impact on the world. register here

hong kong

A man suspected of sedition has been arrested in Hong Kong after playing the harmonica at a vigil for Queen Elizabeth II, under a colonial-era law that once banned insulting the Queen – and has now been revived by authorities amid an ongoing crackdown.

Videos posted on social media show hundreds of people gathering outside the city’s British consulate on Monday evening to pay their respects to the Queen, as her funeral took place in London – an event fraught with political significance in the former British colony, where the mourning of the monarch has become a subtle form of protest.

Many streamed the funeral procession live on their phones, while others waved candles and laid flowers at a memorial site.

A video shows a man playing on his harmonica the tune “Glory to Hong Kong”, a protest anthem created deep in the pro-democracy, anti-government protests that rocked the city in 2019.

More than 2,500 people lined up to offer their condolences to Queen Elizabeth II outside the British Consulate in Hong Kong on September 12, 2022.

The catchy ballad, which includes lyrics such as ‘For Hong Kong, let freedom reign’, has become an anthem of the pro-democracy movement and his performances have been viewed millions of times on YouTube.

At Tuesday’s vigil, crowds waved iPhone flashlights in the dark and sang on harmonicas, some singing a chant that has also become synonymous with protests: “Hong Kong, add oil” .

Photos later show police arriving and escorting the man into their van.

When CNN asked police about the harmonica player, they said a 43-year-old man surnamed Pang was arrested that night around 9:30 p.m. He was suspected of having committed acts of sedition and was held for questioning – then released on bail pending an investigation, police said.

He will have to report to the police at the end of November.

Hong Kong’s Sedition Act is part of a 1938 Crimes Ordinance once used by the colonial government to target pro-China groups and publications – particularly after the Chinese Communist Party came to power and during anti-government demonstrations in 1967.

It originally defined sedition as speech that brought “hate or contempt” against the Queen, her heirs or the Hong Kong government.

The law had gone unused for decades until it was reinstated in 2020 – alongside Beijing’s introduction of a sweeping national security law, which targets secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist activities.

A conviction under the Sedition Act carries a maximum sentence of two years.

The revival of the law – and its use as part of a broader crackdown by authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing – has drawn criticism from activists and aid organizations around the world.

In July, the UN Human Rights Committee urged Hong Kong to repeal the Sedition Act, saying it feared it would limit citizens’ ‘legitimate right to freedom of expression’ .

The Hong Kong government has repeatedly denied that the Sedition Act or the National Security Act – which has been used to arrest activists, journalists, protesters and former elected lawmakers – poses a risk to people. people’s freedoms.

The sedition law “is not intended to silence the expression of opinion which is only genuine criticism against the government based on objective facts”, he said in response to the UN, adding that the national security law “quickly and effectively restored stability and security”. after the 2019 protests.

The crackdown has seen the steady erosion of civil liberties in what was once a freewheeling city with an independent press and a rich culture of protest.

Most pro-democracy groups have dissolved, their leaders imprisoned or forced into exile, and mass protests are virtually banned.

Without traditional avenues of protest – people have now been arrested for social media posts and even for posting children’s books deemed seditious – the Queen’s death emerged this month as an unexpected opportunity for dissent.

The Hong Kong colonial flag and images of Queen Elizabeth are placed outside the British consulate in Hong Kong on September 12.

In celebration of the monarchy and its symbols, some Hong Kongers see an opportunity for a veiled search by both the Chinese Communist Party, which has made no secret of its eagerness to make Hong Kongers forget the era, and the authorities. locals who have recently introduced textbooks that claim the town was never even a colony.

A retiree named Wing, who spoke to CNN outside the consulate on Monday but declined to give his full name, said it was “incredible” to be part of a mass rally again.

“I am angry that the Hong Kong government is not showing any respect properly (to the Queen). They are afraid that the Chinese government will reprimand them, but we were part of the colony,” said Wing, born in the 1960s. .

The displays of affection are also reminiscent of the city’s pro-democracy demonstrations, during which protesters adopted the colonial flag as a sign of resistance to 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 felt that London had neglected its duty by not granting British citizenship to Hong Kongers at the time of the transfer, instead offering most a limited passport which did not give them the right to live and work in Great Britain. Brittany.

Since the introduction of the National Security Act, Britain has created what it calls a pathway to citizenship via a new type of visa.