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Re: Blogger Campaign for Free Oiwan Lam! July 22, 2007

Posted by oiwan in Freedom of Speech, Personal.

(This post is originally written in interlocals.net)

My dear friends,

First of all, I should thank you all for backing me up for this Obscene Articles Tribunal court case; some of you I have never met face to face, but have developed some attachment by reading your blogs on a daily base. As you have set up a Free Oiwan Lam! Facebook page for me, I owe all of you a proper self-introduction and case briefing.

Debuting from mainstream media

I started my career as a journalist in 1994 in a Taiwanese newspapers (United Daily News) in Hong Kong. I were at the China desk and responsible for news in South China, from disaster news (like flooding, factory fire, etc.) to social and economic development in the Pearl River Delta areas. However, in one of the report trip in Nan-hai, I were drugged in a local hotel and they took all my money and belongings. Then I was transferred to the political desk, in responsible for the Handover news. I traveled rather frequently to Beijing for reunification preparatory committee meeting, Sino-British negotiation, People’s Congress, and etc. Later, I shifted to Hong Kong Economic Times, also working at political desk. I remember traveling to Tung Chee Wah’s hometown to “polish” his biography. By then, I felt something went wrong and decided to quit, and subconsciously, I submitted a M.phil proposal on “rewriting collective memories in Hong Kong”. For some reasons, I failed to get a scholarship.

Then I started working for a regional organization called ARENA (Asian regional exchange for new alternatives), its fellows are academics from Asian countries concern about environment, gender, peace, and etc.. Soon after I joined the organization, came the Asian financial crisis; reflections on development and studies about the impact of the crisis became a top agenda. As I was responsible for a regional education project, I had the chance to travel to different Asian countries for organizing workshop and develop more knowledge about the Asia region. While locally, I was involved in some semi-academic alternative magazine publications.

After I finished my three year contract, I traveled to Germany in 2000 for a three months post graduate course on “gender and migration” in an experimental project called International Women University. After that, I moved to Taiwan, Hsinchu, to work for an academic journal, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, as managing editor. In 2002, I was in a M.phil programme in the sociology department of Beijing Tsinghua University. My thesis is about Fujian-Hong Kong migrant family. (My family is from Chiao-zhou.)

Chasing stars at Tiananmen Square

When I was in Beijing, I was working for a research on fansclub culture in China. For one year, I were chasing pop stars, like Jay Zhou, Faye Wong, Yangzi in Beijing with youths, who organized themselves via internet forums, QQ groups and mobile text messages. In one occasion, I were chasing stars at the Tiananmen Square, blocking cars from entering the People’s Congress Hall. The research experience was very inspiring and I decided to develop internet independent media in Hong Kong.

In 2004, while I was writing my thesis in Hong Kong, I started inmediahk.net with my friends. Our references at that time were Ohmynews, IMC, Dan Gilmor’s grassroots media and Z-net. “Independent” and “citizen or minjian journalism” become our key concepts. In 2005, we organized our counter-punch style of reporting during the WTO ministerial meeting. Now it is a major citizen journalist website in Hong Kong with an average of 6,000 daily visitors and 120,000 daily pageviews (even though the website is GFWed in China). The latest citizen media campaign is the Queen’s Pier preservation.

Last year, we launched the interlocals.net which is designed to be a platform for local citizen media to translate their news. However, because of various reasons (including the lack of organizing, technical support, language barriers, resources, etc.) cross-border dialogue hasn’t been taking place yet.

As I was formally elected as the Chair for Hong Kong In-Media last year, I have to coordinate the administration, management and fundraising, etc. with two other executive members in a voluntary base.

Internet public space in Hong Kong

I still remembered how I met Rebecca in the first China blogger conference, and how by accident in a google chat, I came across the message that globalvoicesonline.org were looking for northeast Asia editor. The work not only provides me with minimum stable income, but also allows me to keep in touch with blogosphere in Northeast Asia in a daily bases, it is really like a research work. Hence, I am rather sensitive to the shrinking of internet public space in Hong Kong.

First we have the criminalization of B.T uploading (creating seed file)in the name of copyrights violation. The case sets the world record as it is the first criminal case against individual B.T upload while in the real life, copyright violations are mainly civil case except from large scale and organized violation. I am not saying that the B.T uploading guy is right. However, the death of Hong Kong film industry is not because of B.T. but because of the global market flow.

The Hong Kong police spent million of dollars for a machine to scan the internet, tracking i.p. addresses. Once the machine is in place, and there are no more B.T uploading activities, it moves to other sectors, tracking i.p of spoof posts like the di-diney bombing, self-claimed triad society members and indecent and obscene articles. The police claimed that all law applicable to real life will be applied to the virtual world.Initially the law on self-claimed triad society members is to control triad society members for threatening real people in real life with real threats, however, when it comes to the virtual world, the “self-claiming” does not constitute a “real threat”. Unless the police were able to prove that the person is really recruiting members from the internet, they cannot just apply the “self-claim” law to the netizens. After the ridiculous charges, many local bloggers wrote fictional stories titled as “life in triad society”. However, the police department is smart enough not to pick up these cases.

However the Secretary for Security, Mr Ambrose S K Lee, in clarifying the nature of hyperlink in the distribution of indecent and obscene articles continued to stress: if website hosts have knowledge that their website is linked to a pornographic article, they may be liable as an aider and abettor in publishing an obscene article (June 20, 2007 speech in the Legislative council). Well, all of you know that my hyperlink article is indecent now, so be careful with your link!

Complaint letter workshop and TELA

Back to the flickr indecent hyperlinking case, the complaint mechanism of the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority (TELA) has been abused by conservative groups for quite long. A public secret for the Chinese University Students Press (CUSP)’ case was that the complaints were “homework” coming out from a complaint letter writing workshop organized by a conservative church group. However, the TELA has lost its senses and handed the case to the Obscene Articles Tribunal (OAT) and some of the OAT members jumped out in the newspapers and found the students guilty even before the OAT had its proper meeting. In the end, the indecent parts that pin pointed by the mainstream media were not the parts identified by the OAT! Actually, according to the lawyers’ explanation on court, the OAT members failed to identify the parts but judged by general impression; that’s why they have decided to apply for judicial review of the interim classification.

When the CUSP’s case was in hot debate, another outraging news came out. A netizen’s photo links in an Adult discussion board was ruled as category three obscene articles (according to the district court judge, the photos were showing normal sexual behaviour and they are in the adult section!). He was arrested and searched by the police in his house. You can imagine how intimidating and humiliating it is! However, as the netizen chose not to defend, he was found guilty with a HKD5,000 fine (but also a criminal record).

Indecent flickr photo?

This is the background for my civil disobedient act against the indecent hyperlink case and the OAT. The flickr photo was carefully chosen that it goes against the mechanical guideline but not against the law, as the photo is artistic, from a global website that is not pornographic in nature and has their internal guideline. Moreover, there was no complaint against the photo since it has been uploaded and all the discussions were about photographic effects. If TELA had a bit of common sense, they wouldn’t pursue the case, it is a self-destructive act. But the compromising filtering policy of flickr via Hong Kong Yahoo, might have given them the confidence that they had successfully tamed a global company, why not this shabby homemade website? The logic of power has replaced the logic of common sense.

I don’t have concrete evidence that the TELA has given pressure to Hong Kong Yahoo. (But according to their administrative procedure, they have to contact Yahoo Hong Kong and to give them advice.) And a friend working in Yahoo! told me that the flickr programmer team back in the U.S was not aware that Hong Kong was one of the filter areas at the beginning. Rebecca’s source seems to confirm that it is a (local yahoo) Hong Kong Yahoo’s decision and judgment to comply with local law. Now that there is a local petition on going, Hong Kong Yahoo still refuses to make public statement on their policy. However, the filter is making self-mockery. A comment at inmediahk.net pointed out that, when she searched “Hongkong” and “nude”, there were a large number of nude males, no women at all! It is quite obvious that the filter is a heterosexual male character reacting to the “erotic effects” (OAT’s definition of indecent) of nude woman photo.

Witch hunting? Or a localized version of mainland propaganda department?

Even there were so much criticism against the OAT and lawyers were avoiding the only Judge in the Tribunal by judicial review, the TELA team is still wandering around the city, searching for indecent articles. They remind me of the mainland propaganda department. Today, I got a call from a local reporter telling me that the TELA asked some publishers in Hong Kong’s annual book fair to take away their books (16 in total). One of them titled as Love Mythology with a Greek mythology painting Psyche receiving the first kiss of Cupid as book cover. The publisher argued with TELA and commented that the TELA was “pathetic”, as the book has been on the market for two years! In the end, the Trade development council had to step in to persuade the TELA staffs to leave. The reporter asked me whether I had any advice to give when negotiating with the TELA staffs, all I could say is to defend their right with common sense: nudity is not indecent; and some knowledge of previous cases can help.

Setting up a winning case

Back to my case, thanks to all your helps, I become more confident as it is not a lonely battle. (At first I had some family pressure.) I hope that local bloggers and netizens can also take the case as their battle as well. I will prepare very hard to have a good fight and document everything for future use.

Meanwhile, I hope you can continue to blog and talk about the case. As I have to prepare a long and expensive trial from OAT to district court (if not high court), and hopefully bring in the photographer Jacob Appelbaum to Hong Kong for a testimony, money does matter. Will keep you update about the case.

Thanks again,

Yours, Oiwan

(Photo from Rebecca)



1. Hong Kong Blogger Charged with Obscenity : Committee to Protect Bloggers - September 13, 2007

[…] Articles Tribunal, seek to apparently prosecute anyway. (More on the background and specifics in this post and […]

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