The new national security law by the Hong Kong government has been sending shock waves through artists living in the city, especially the ones that have covered the pro-democracy protests in some fashion.
The law, which has been enacted since June, is supposedly to punish terrorism, secessionism, or collusion with foreign forces. The punishment terms including a probability of a lifetime in prison have caused massive unrest among a huge number of artists across Hong Kong as they know it's mostly being used to punish those who don't submit to China's wrath.
Fearing that they may potentially violate the law, many artists have started fleeing the country, leaving the city, or simply self-censoring themselves. What's more, pro-democracy books have already been taken off the shelf everywhere and you can no longer find shops and retail outlets where imagery and decorations related to the protest are publicly displayed.
“I've chosen to leave. For the moment, I want to protect myself,” said Lau Kwong Shing, an illustrator known for his fine-line drawings around the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. Shing is not the only artist to feel so. As a matter of fact, nearly 2,000 artists and cultural workers said to Reuters that they were experiencing a “climate of fear and self-censorship” due to the new law that was passed.
Other artists, such as Him Lo, are strategically shifting their artworks to museums in Europe and elsewhere to ensure that they are preserved. “I'm worried artworks will be seized,” said Lo. We also have artists such as Childe Abaddon who are climbing the ladder of success through their publications are now being apprehensive to release updates and newer editions.
Abaddon's “Voices” contained a number of protest works submitted by anonymous contributors. “It was lucky that we put out the book before. The book sold well, but we won't consider publishing any more,” said Abaddon. Considering the current security laws and the gravity of the situations, artists across Hong Kong are backing down from creatively showcasing their viewpoints.
Hong Kong's government, however, says that the new law is put in place to respect and protect human rights. “The legitimate rights of Hong Kong citizens to exercise their freedom of speech, such as making general remarks criticising government policies or officials, should not be compromised,” said the Hong Kong government in a statement.
Nonetheless, artists have already started self-censoring themselves to ensure that they stay safe and do not get entrapped under the law and serve prison time. With mass surveillance of social platforms in the region, many artists think it's only a matter of time until they get caught for dissent.