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Hong Kong Supercharges 1938 British Sedition Law to Curb Dissent

Colonial-era offense now overrides free speech laws and is easier to prosecute than China-drafted measure

Police officers stand guard at Victoria Park, the traditional site of the annual Tiananmen candlelight vigil, on June 4.

Police officers stand guard at Victoria Park, the traditional site of the annual Tiananmen candlelight vigil, on June 4.

Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg
Updated on

Bubble-tea shop owners jailed after publishing anti-vaccination messages online. An IT worker arrested over posting the political slogan “Liberate Hong Kong” on social media. A 67-year-old apprehended simply for applauding a court defendant.

Ever since Beijing imposed a national security law on the city in 2020, these acts have been considered crimes in the former British colony, which once protected free speech. Yet now, after a Hong Kong court last December expanded the scope of the statute, authorities are increasingly prosecuting them under a colonial sedition law that hadn’t be used for decades.