Hong Kong Authorities Ban Popular Protest Slogan in Latest Clampdown on Free Speech

July 2, 2020 Updated: July 2, 2020

“Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times,” one of the most well-known protest chants since mass Hong Kong demonstrations ignited in 2019, has now been banned, as the local government has deemed it a violation of the newly imposed national security law.

The Hong Kong government said in a July 2 statement that the slogan is now considered illegal, as it connotes the idea of “‘Hong Kong independence,’ or separating the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) from the People’s Republic of China, altering the legal status of the HKSAR, or subverting the State power.”

The Hong Kong government said it made the decision because protesters “displayed or possessed items” containing the phrase. “The HKSAR Government strongly condemns any acts which challenge the sovereignty, unification, and territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China,” according to the statement released late Thursday night.

The phrase was first coined by Edward Leung, former spokesman of pro-independence political party Hong Kong Indigenous, in 2016 as a campaign slogan when he ran for a lawmaker position. He was soon disqualified on the grounds that advocating for independence was a violation of the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

Leung is currently serving a six-year prison term after being convicted for rioting.

The phrase took on new momentum in 2019 as protesters embraced its spirit to oppose Beijing’s tightening control. Millions of Hongkongers have demonstrated on the streets chanting the slogan, fearful that they would lose their basic rights amid growing Chinese encroachment.

Anti-Government Protests Continue In Hong Kong Amid The Coronavirus Pandemic
Anti-government protesters wearing protective masks hold Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times banners during a demonstration at a shopping mall in Hong Kong, on May 10, 2020. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

Thousands of locals again came out on July 1 despite a police ban to voice their opposition against the new law. July 1 is also the 23rd anniversary of the former British colony reverting back to Chinese rule.

Police said it made around 370 arrests at the site of protests, 10 of which concerned violations of the new law.

In a social media post, police said they stopped and searched two women, and arrested them for possessing pamphlets and printouts bearing the words, “Resist Beijing, Liberate Hong Kong,” “conscience,” and “One Nation, One Hong Kong.” A 15-year-old female was arrested for waving a blue “Hong Kong Independence” flag, while at least another three were arrested for possessing flags or banners with similar slogans.

The police also repeatedly held up purple flags while patrolling the July 1 protests, warning the crowd in Chinese and English against “displaying flags or banners, chanting slogans, or conducting yourselves with an intent such as secession or subversion,” which it said may lead to arrest and prosecution.

police purple banner
Riot police detain a man as they raise a warning flag during a demonstration against the new national security law in Hong Kong, on July 1, 2020. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

Nathan Law, one of the most prominent protest figures in Hong Kong known for his role during the 2014 Umbrella pro-democracy movement, said on July 2 that he has left Hong Kong due to the risk of being punished for “speech crimes.”

Demosisto, a pro-democracy political group that Law co-founded, dissolved after the national security law’s implementation prompted core members, including Law, to withdraw from the group.

The activist, who is turning 27, said he will keep advocating for Hong Kong against Chinese authoritarian power on an international stage. “[O]ne shall never walk alone on the right path,” he said in a Twitter post on Thursday.

“The July 1 crowds show once again that the fire of Hong Kongers’ determination will not be easily extinguished. We must sustain our resistance on all fronts,” he added.

Follow Eva on Twitter: @EvaSailEast