Hong Kong activist singer cleared of 'corrupt conduct' charge

Wong leaves the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts over a charge with ‘corrupt conduct’ at a 2018 election rally, in Hong Kong on Aug 5, 2021. - Reuters

HONG KONG (Reuters): A Hong Kong judge cleared on Thursday (Aug 5) singer and pro-democracy activist Anthony Wong of a charge of "corrupt conduct" filed this week by the city's anti-corruption watchdog over an appearance at an opposition election rally in 2018.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption said on Monday that Wong had provided "entertainment to induce others to vote" for pro-democracy activist Au Nok-hin in a 2018 legislative by-election.

Wong, 59, performed two songs then appealed to the audience to vote for Au, it said.

"Hong Kongers will continue to sing. Hong Kongers will continue to hang in there," Wong told reporters outside the court after the hearing.

His case comes amid a flurry of legal action against government critics, some of it under a national security law that Beijing imposed on the former British colony a year ago and some under other laws.

Hong Kong authorities say rights and freedoms in the Chinese-ruled city remain intact but national security was a red line. All arrests are based on evidence and not related to the people's background or political stance, city authorities say.

Prosecutors at the Eastern Magistrates' Court did not pursue the charge against Wong, saying a bind-over order - to prevent certain behaviour from occurring in future, which is neither a conviction nor a punishment - would suffice.

Judge Peter Law ordered Wong to "not breach the peace, show good behaviour and not violate any law related to election conduct for 18 months".

Au, who went on to win the election, but was later jailed for an unauthorised assembly, was issued a similar order.

Beijing's imposition of the national security law last year after prolonged pro-democracy unrest has covered most aspects of life in the former British colony with an authoritarian veil.

Since its enactment, prominent democrats have been arrested, either under the new legislation or for other charges. Some have fled overseas.

Book publishers have admitted to self-censoring, cinemas have pulled a documentary on the protests and a university cancelled a press photography exhibition. A contemporary art museum said national security police could vet its collections.

Pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily closed in June after senior editors were arrested on national security grounds.

This week, artist Kacey Wong said on Facebook he had left Hong Kong. He told the Hong Kong Free Press he had moved to Taiwan because he needed "100% freedom".

Online outlet Initium Media announced this week it was relocating to Singapore, citing fading press freedoms.

Public broadcaster RTHK, which is undergoing a major overhaul, said on Tuesday veteran talkshow host Steve Vines had left for Britain.

Vines told former colleagues in an email that "the institutions that ensure the liberty of Hongkongers are being dismantled."

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