18 February 2019
Apart from some cyberactivists and the pan-democrats, the majority of the public has remained largely indifferent to the potential threat posed by 'Cyber Article 23'. Photo: HKEJ
Apart from some cyberactivists and the pan-democrats, the majority of the public has remained largely indifferent to the potential threat posed by 'Cyber Article 23'. Photo: HKEJ

What is truly sinister about ‘Cyber Article 23′

At this stage, the three major bones of contention in the controversy over “Cyber Article 23” are:

(1) Whether the bill’s proposed amendments to the copyright law put too much emphasis on protecting copyright owners.

(2) Whether it is truly necessary to criminalize the unauthorized use of copyrighted materials online.

(3) Whether the new law will be used as a tool by the Department of Justice to crack down on dissent.

I believe public concern over the third point is well-founded, because we have enough reason to believe it is exactly what the new law is aimed at doing: tightening control on freedom of expression in the cyberworld by pressing indiscriminate criminal charges against netizens in the name of protecting intellectual property rights.

Am I being paranoid here?

Would our highly educated and noble secretary for justice ever do anything so despicable?

Of course he would, and he already did!

Who else on earth other than Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung could have come up with the ingenious idea of “inviting” the taxi union to seek a court injunction to authorize the police to clear the occupied areas during the Umbrella movement last year?

Some might argue that posting anti-government messages online is nothing comparable to physically occupying main roads in our city center, which everybody can tell is a criminal offence.

They would say that police would by no means knock on somebody’s door in the middle of the night and take him away in handcuffs just because he said something radical on the internet a couple of days earlier.

Those who think so may have forgotten that the police made multiple arrests in this manner during and after the Occupy movement using the charge of “access to computer with criminal or dishonest intent”.

Once “Cyber Article 23”, the Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2014, is passed, it will only provide further legal justification for such arrests, and that is the reason why we must oppose this evil law.

Here I feel compelled to condemn Ada Leung Ka-lai, the director of intellectual property, for misrepresenting the clauses of the proposed law and misleading the public.

In fact, the way she misled the public is both horrible and astounding, as she has continued to deny that certain uses of copyrighted materials online are not criminalized under the bill, when in fact they are.

Perhaps the biggest misrepresentation is that although the government has continued to reassure the public that circulating copyrighted materials online for non-profit-making purposes will not put anyone at legal risk, the truth is it will!

That is exactly what is written in Section 118 (8B) of the bill.

Besides, the way this section is written, excluding key legal terms such as “knowingly”, “mens rea”, “intending” and “recklessly” that are commonly used in criminal laws, will make it very easy for the Department of Justice to press charges and set a relatively low threshold for conviction.

I certainly welcome any debate on legal issues, but the way our officials are misrepresenting and distorting the facts about the proposed new law in order to twist the public’s arm and gain its support just sends a chill down my spine.

Although I am delighted to see that the pan-democrats seem to have realized the magnitude of the issue and started to mobilize for vetoing the bill, all they can do is delay the voting, for several months at best, by filibuster.

It will only be a matter of time before this law is eventually passed by the Legislative Council, given the fact that the pro-establishment camp holds the majority in Legco.

Therefore, at the end of the day, we have to rely on public pressure to force the government to back down, like we did during the massive campaign against the moral and national education curriculum in 2012.

Unfortunately, the majority, by far, of the public has remained rather indifferent to the potential threat to our freedom of speech posed by this bill.

I am particularly disappointed by the “leftist liberals” and Scholarism, who didn’t even bother to put up a fight against such an evil law.

For their part, the pan-democrats must also step up their resistance effort outside the legislature and get prepared for a prolonged, uphill battle against this bill.

They would be naïve if they believed some routine sit-down protests would be enough.

I am not inciting any violence here.

All I want to do is to point out the fact that in the post-Occupy era, the public has become much more eager to go to great lengths to defend its rights, for it is already awake to the cruel fact that being peaceful and polite in the face of tyranny just won’t change anything at all.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 15.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist

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