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Score Settling Saga against Performing Arts Sector Continues; ICAC Launches Political Probe to Show Loyalty


This is translated from CitizenNews' weekly digest tracking Hong Kong's political news over the past week. (一周政情:清算演藝界浪接浪 廉署表忠貞 攬政治調查

Artist Anthony Wong Yiu-ming (below) sings two songs at a public rally for Au Nok-hin (above) in the Legislative Council by-election in March 2018.

In the past week, the most prominent political news is that artist Anthony Wong Yiu-ming was arrested and charged by the ICAC for allegedly providing “entertainment” to canvass for candidates by singing two songs at a public rally for Au Nok-hin in the Legislative Council by-election in March 2018. However, when the case was brought to court, the ICAC agreed to drop the charges due to the minor nature of the case. Anthony Wong and Au Nok-hin were under a bind over order for $2,000 for 18 months, a political lawsuit against an artist that was raised high but dropped low. With the resignation of elected members of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC), including musician Adrian Chow, sculptor Chris Chan Kam-shing and theatre director and actor Indy Lee Chun-leung, the public is beginning to see that the political purge against the performing arts sector is in full swing. [HKCT note: Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po, pro-Beijing newspapers, had repeatedly wrote articles to criticise the trio since March this year.]

In the past year, the investigation of a series of political cases launched at full speed to tie in with the implementation of the National Security Law (NSL) was mainly led by the National Security Department of the Police Force. The Commissioner of Police and the Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of the National Security Division are ex-officio members of the Committee for Safeguarding National Security set up by the Government, while the Commissioner of Customs and Excise and the Director of Immigration are also members of the National Security Committee. The Customs and Excise Department has actively cooperated with the Committee for Safeguarding National Security (CSNS) in taking the initiative to crack down on yellow shops and the Immigration Department in intercepting the departure of persons under investigation. The ICAC has never been represented on the CSNS. In the past, the public thought that the ICAC did not need to participate in national security work until ThunderGo campaign in the 2016 Legislative Council election was suddenly brought to the table again by the ICAC, followed by artist Anthony Wong and politician Au Nok-hin for the 2018 election campaign. The public realised that the ICAC had joined the political purge and was actively working with the CSNS to round up non-pro-Beijing political figures.

The ICAC investigated ThunderGo [HKCT note: a campaign for the 2016 Legislative Council General Election to facilitate electors who had joined the campaign to participate in strategic voting by coordinating the lists of candidates fielded and disseminating them on the polling day data gathered from opinion polls and recommended lists of candidates, with a view to boosting the number of elected candidates from the democratic camp], the prosecution of Benny Tai and others who promoted the campaign, and the prosecution of Anthony Wong. This is not only because of the prominent political figures involved (Benny Tai, Au Nok-hin), but also because these two cases are already "overdue". Under the normal practice of enforcement against election-related corrupt practices, investigations and prosecutions against certain statements and conduct during the election period would not be initiated until three or even five years after the election has ended. Such investigations and prosecutions should normally be conducted within six months of the election to allow the court the opportunity to rectify the election malpractice and conduct a by-election in a timely manner. Unless there are exceptional reasons, such as the form of fraud is so subtle that prima facie evidence is difficult to come by, and there is significant public interest, then intervention will be made more than 6 months after the election.

Why did the ICAC not investigate and prosecute until a few years after the election, or even after all the candidates had been elected, or even when they were in prison? This gives the public an impression that the ICAC is obviously settling scores politically.

The ICAC's prosecution of Anthony Wong and Au Nok-hin has nothing to do with national security and cannot be tried by a judge appointed under the National Security Law. Anthony Wong was not paid for his work (i.e. singing two songs), nor was he taking up a job. He was simply standing up for Au Nok-hin because of his political support for democracy, and he took the initiative to sing songs with a political message. This is not at all what is commonly understood as providing free entertainment to bribe voters to vote for him. Any judge with a modicum of common sense and a sense of justice would probably have found Anthony Wong not guilty. The risk of the ICAC losing the case was very high. In the end, the ICAC opted to institute forcefully the prosecution, but agreed to offer no evidence as soon as Wong was brought before the court. By doing so, the ICAC was able to make a statement to the CSNS, express its political loyalty, and make a strong political contribution to deterring pan-democratic supporters of the performing arts sector, while eliminating the risk of losing the case.

The ICAC's action demonstrates that a strong political deterrent can be conveyed without the need for a successful prosecution, simply by investigating and prosecuting. This strategy is particularly effective when used against high-profile performers, who rely heavily on their reputation and connections to get jobs. If investigated by law enforcement agencies, the risk of prosecution is not only uncomfortable for the artist and his family. Not only will the artist and his or her family suffer, but business partners will also cease to collaborate with such artists and it will be difficult to sustain a career in the performing arts. As soon as Anthony Wong was charged, Beijing's mouthpiece media in Hong Kong continued the score-settling efforts, naming several HKADC members who had worked with Wong last year to oppose the implementation of the NSL. The elected representatives of the performing arts sector who were named and criticised resigned within a few days, and one of them revealed that he and his family felt their personal safety was at risk as he was recently followed by Beijing's mouthpiece media, who kept detailed records of his daily movements. It is clear from this that although Anthony Wong's charges have been dropped, the political purge against the performing arts sector has not subsided, but is growing in intensity.


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