YouTube Blocks Hong Kong’s Next Leader John Lee

YouTube, the Google-owned video streaming platform, has removed the account of John Lee Ka-chiu, the policeman-turned-politician who is poised to take over as Hong Kong’s next leader.

All content on Lee’s YouTube page has been removed. In its place is a message that reads: “This account has been terminated for violating Google’s Terms of Service.”

Lee’s campaign office said on Wednesday that it had been informed by Google that the removal of the account was in accordance with the company’s compliance with U.S. sanctions.

“We find this very regrettable and completely unreasonable, but we think they can’t stop us from spreading our candidate’s message – our campaign’s message – to the public,” said Tam Yiu-chung, head of Lee’s campaign office.

Lee is one of a dozen officials who were sanctioned by the U.S. in 2020 and had been deemed responsible for the implementation of the Beijing-imposed National Security Law in July that year.

Lee is now the only candidate in next month’s small circle election for Chief Executive.

The election, which is not open to the public and instead involves just 1,500 carefully-selected voters, will go ahead on May 8. Lee’s five-year term of office will begin from July 1, 2022.

“Google complies with applicable U.S. sanctions laws and enforces related policies under its Terms of Service. After review and consistent with these policies, we terminated the Johnlee2022 YouTube channel,” told the South China Morning Post. The company has not yet replied to Variety’s enquiries. Lee’s campaign activities remain visible on the Meta-owned Facebook and Instagram.

Lee was Hong Kong’s security minister at the time that the National Security Law was injected into the city’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law. He has since been promoted to chief secretary, the city’s second highest-ranking official.

Since the introduction of the National Security Law, Lam and Lee have ushered in other laws overhauling the territory’s systems for electing both the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council. There are no longer any pro-democracy legislators in LegCo and several have been jailed or are living in exile.

Security considerations have also been used to crack down on the city’s media, revamp government-owned broadcaster RTHK, and to usher in changes to the film censorship law.

Lee has not yet elaborated much of his political platform. He has also spoken of the need to fix Hong Kong’s shortage and a desire to rejuvenate the civil service. And he has dropped broad hints that he aims to bring in another security law (known as Article 23) as well as an anti-fake news law.

Through the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the U.S. assets of sanctioned individuals are blocked. Americans and U.S. businesses are prohibited from dealing with them. But there can also be wider spillover. Carrie Lam, the city’s current Chief Executive, was also sanctioned and told local media that because her credit cards and bank accounts have been blocked, she receives her monthly salary in cash.

Western media companies tread a fine line between the frequently incompatible laws of the U.S. and China. Netflix has been criticized in China for series including Thai-produced “A Girl From Nowhere,” for showing the flag of democratic-leaning Taiwan. Netflix is currently available in Hong Kong, but not in mainland China.

In June last year, the Hong Kong government ordered the Israeli web hosting service to take down a pro-democracy website. The company initially complied, but later did a U-turn and reinstated the site.

Earlier this year, access within Hong Kong to the website of a U.K.-based non-governmental organization Hong Kong Watch became impossible. It is unclear whether the government used its own technological means to prevent access to the site or ordered ISPs in the territory to block it.

Nigarai M Grusio

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