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Veteran Public Affairs Commentator Quits Writing Politics, Citing Risks of Hong Kong Jail

A protester displays a placard during a rally  to support press freedom in Hong Kong on March 2, 2014. (PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Tim Hamlett, former associate professor of journalism at the Baptist University of Hong Kong, a public affairs commentator for the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP), and contributor to most of Hong Kong’s English media outlets, wrote an opinion piece, “Why I am giving up writing about Hong Kong politics,” published on May 12, 2023, in his blog as well as HKFP.

Hamlett attributed this decision to the “dangerous times” in Hong Kong for people who “do not share our government’s high opinion of itself” and to his lack of interest in experiencing the “inside of a Hong Kong police cell.”

In his article of about 800 words, he wrote, “Nowadays, the government has its own facts and its own version of history. Any expression which does not actively subscribe to both is to be contested and condemned,” quoting the Secretary for Security, Chris P.K. Tang’s recent speech, “You can’t use misleading accusations to vilify the government… the government must speak up, clarify and condemn… and give the citizens the right to know.”

“It sounds very nice, in theory, but the practice is that comparatively harmless cartoonists and writers face a constant flow of official abuse,” he added, betting “with confidence” that the Hong Kong Journalists Association would meet official clarification and condemnation of its many sins and errors, culminating in the claim that the government ‘welcomes criticism,’ due to JA’s comments this week in regards to Ming Pao axing a long-running cartoon column: “Backed by abundant resources and public power, the Hong Kong government repeatedly targeted a mere [cartoonist], reflecting that Hong Kong cannot tolerate critical voices.”

The targeted cartoonist is Wong Kei-kwan, pen-named Zunzi, who published a well-known comic column under the same name in the local Chinese-language newspaper Ming Pao, dedicated to local politics and current affairs. After increasingly being singled out and scrutinized by CCP newspapers here, Ming Pao announced the killing off of the popular column last week.

Hongkongers saddened to see the 40 years old column go, recalled in interviews with the local edition of the Epoch Times, how the comic column has been highly and widely appreciated, like the edition on Hong Kong’s handover to CCP in 1997 depicting Hong Kong as the bride in an arranged marriage where Deng Xiaoping was the father, Margret Thatcher was the mother. Hong Kong was married off to a piece of paper, “The Sino-British Joint Declaration.” The column was seen as recording decades of the city’s public affairs, even becoming a welcomed tool used by school teachers in later years for relevant subjects such as Liberal Studies (now replaced) to inspire students on diverse thinking.

“Legal intimidation through other channels also continues unchecked,” Hamlett continued, citing the sudden closure of Transit Jam, a website devoted to transport and planning matters, after being attacked by one of the Liaison Office’s poodle papers; the effective ban of its student union by Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) for allegedly “exaggerated, unfounded and biased” descriptions of past events; the scolding of a reporter in a press conference last week for referring to the 2019 anti-extradition social movement “the 2019 protests” rather than apparently the only acceptable phrase now—“black violence.” Hamlett thus sees the risks increasing for himself as well, quoting an old song, “Ten green bottles hanging on the wall” and “I do not aspire to be the last one,” he said.

And “the need to tiptoe through a legal minefield is only part of the problem.” Hamlett believes writing comments on public affairs is only reasonable when two parties participate in a dialogue. “If one participant in the group erupts into angry shouting whenever criticized, you can’t have a conversation.” Therefore, he concluded that “there is no longer any point in writing about local politics” as “our politics are no longer conducted in public.”

Hong Kong Free Press received anonymous intimidation letters in 2017, accusing it of spreading hatred and separating Hong Kong and mainland China. Three of these letters were sent directly to Hamlett’s home. The threats explicitly mentioned that Tim Hamlett and Tom Grundy (founder and editor-in-chief of HKFP) were “wanted by the police.”