Hong Kong police demand removal of ‘sensitive’ items citing security law, pro-democracy cafe says


A Hong Kong cafe known for sympathizing with protests against the 2019 extradition bill has claimed police asked them to remove ‘sensitive’ items from the store, citing potential breaches of the immigration law. national security imposed by Beijing.

Three police officers in No One Less Coffee on July 21, 2022. Photo: No One Less Coffee.

No One Less Coffee told HKFP last Friday that police visited Sheung Wan’s store the day before and warned that some items on display may violate security legislation, which targets secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts.

Cafe owner Ms Law said three uniformed officers showed up to deal with a street obstruction complaint about a three-foot-high wooden sign outside the store. Police also asked the store to put away some items they said were sensitive, without explicitly stating which slogans or phrases on the advertising materials were considered potentially illegal, she said.

The pro-democracy shop said it put away a flag containing “the eight words” a few days ago, while continuing to display other posters and items. The Hong Kong court ruled in July last year that the eight-word slogan “Free Hong Kong, the revolution of our time”, ubiquitous in protests against the 2019 extradition bill, was capable to incite secession.

“Those who remain [contained phrases] like ‘resist with you, I’m very happy’, ‘without any fear’… we didn’t delete them, because we thought they didn’t infringe [the national security law],” she says.

Scenes of protests in Hong Kong in 2019. File photo: May James/HKFP.

No license

In response to inquiries from HKFP last Friday, police confirmed Law’s statement that officers had urged the store to remove a billboard after receiving complaints that it was blocking the pedestrian route.

While processing the complaint, officers also discovered that the cafe did not have a restaurant license, the Force said. They told the owner to get the proper license as soon as possible in order to meet the legal requirements for operating a restaurant.

“The owner said he understood and brought the billboard back to the store,” police wrote in an email response, adding that the street obstruction could lead to accidents.

Police did not respond to questions about whether last Thursday’s operation involved warnings of potential national security breaches.

Nobody under coffee. Photo: Nobody less than coffee.

Law admitted to HKFP that the store did not have a restaurant license and was operating under a permit for a light refreshment restaurant.

According to the owner, they have submitted all required documents to the Department of Food and Environmental Hygiene to apply for a restaurant license. But their license was suspended after the FEHD received complaints – daily – about “poor hygiene” and “unhygienic food” being served. The government department also did not issue a temporary restaurant license as a result, she said.

“Now that we asked again, FEHD said it would take them about a month to see if they could give us a license,” Law said.

HKFP has contacted FEHD for comment.

A banner inside the Hong Kong government building promoting the national security law. Photo: GovHK.

The cafe “expected” police to make frequent visits in the future, Law said, citing officers telling the store they would check to see if posters and objects with alleged illegal slogans were still visible.

Law said the store would temporarily close when officers were present and reopen when they left. She added that the police operation was “seriously affecting” the cafe’s business, as customers were “frightened” by police visits.

“They are trying to threaten us. They want to scare us and choose to close the shop ourselves,” she said.

Beijing-backed media attack

Earlier this month, No One Less Coffee came under fire by the Beijing-backed Wen Wei Po newspaper, which accused the store of “spreading independence” and “spreading the virus.” Without giving the full Chinese name of the store, the newspaper said some staff members did not wear face masks while preparing food in the cafe, as well as photos taken inside the restaurant that appeared show that the baristas had their masks up to their chins.

There were quite a few items and publicity materials inside the pro-democracy store that “incited violence”, according to the report, including postcards with “violent designs dressed in black”. Some also contained slogans such as “we really love Hong Kong” and “don’t get used to it”, which are believed to be political slogans related to the violence in the protests.

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