Hong Kong language group closes after post accused of breaching security law

The vast majority of Hong Kong's population speak Cantonese -- distinct from Mandarin largely used in the mainland (DALE DE LA REY)
The vast majority of Hong Kong's population speak Cantonese -- distinct from Mandarin largely used in the mainland (DALE DE LA REY)

A Hong Kong group promoting Cantonese language preservation shut down Monday after police said an essay it posted online had breached a Beijing-imposed national security law, according to the group's founder.

The Hong Kong Language Learning Association was set up in 2013 to support the preservation of Cantonese and safeguard the "linguistic rights" of Hong Kongers.

Spoken by the vast majority of Hong Kongers, Cantonese is distinct from the Mandarin spoken in the mainland.

Association founder Andrew Chan said in a statement he had decided to "cease all operations of the Hong Kong Language Learning Association, effective immediately, in order to ensure the safety of my family and former members".

According to Chan, Hong Kong's national security police searched his family home on August 22 while he was out of town, and demanded the removal of an online article "alleging a violation of the National Security Law".

The law, imposed in 2020 by Beijing after massive and at times violent democracy protests, has effectively quelled all dissent in Hong Kong -- silencing the opposition camp and civil rights groups.

The article in question on the association's website was a fictional short story depicting a future, culturally assimilated Hong Kong, written by a third party and entered into a 2020 writing competition held by the group.

"I have not been told (the) reason it was violating the law," Chan told AFP, adding that officers had searched the flat without a warrant.

Chan said he needed to shutter the group because taking down the story was not enough to avert legal risk.

In a statement, police told AFP that their operations were "handled in light of the actual situation and in accordance with the law," without saying why the article was deemed a violation.

After the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997, government attempts to broaden the use of Mandarin in classrooms have met backlash, with critics decrying it as an erasure of local culture.

Chan made headlines in 2018 when he protested the introduction of compulsory Mandarin tests at the Hong Kong Baptist University, where he was a student.

"(Authorities want) people to learn more Mandarin in order to facilitate the integration of Hong Kong and China," he said Monday, adding that Cantonese has been given an "unfair status".

In recent years, Chan's group ran low on funds and was operated solely by him, he said.

Currently out of Hong Kong on an extended trip, Chan told AFP he would not return "until when I feel safe".