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Hong Kong protesters adapt signs, slogans to skirt new law

Hong Kong: It was one of the first protests in Hong Kong after a feared national security law came into effect.

Among a dozen or so lunchtime demonstrators at a luxury mall in the Central business district, a man raised a poster that - viewed from afar - read in Chinese, Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.

The government had just banned the slogan, saying it had separatist connotations and so ran afoul of the new security law's prohibition of secessionist acts. Shortly after, riot police entered the mall, shooing away onlookers. They detained the man, telling him the slogan was banned. But when officers looked at the poster up close, no words could be made out. It merely had circular shapes against a contrasting background. They snapped a few photographs of the poster and let him go. Since the imposition of the security law -- which bans secessionist, subversive and terrorist activities, as well as collusion with foreign forces, with penalties of up to life imprisonment -- anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, and those supporting the movement, have adapted their methods to try to make their voices heard without violating the legislation.

Before the law took effect June 30, protesters often held up colourful posters plastered with slogans that ranged from condemning the Chinese government to calling for Hong Kong's independence. Since then, they have become creative in obscuring their messages.

Many of the protesters at the luxury mall held up blank pieces of white paper to protest against China's white terror of political repression. Other posters are designed to circumvent bans on slogans. The government has not yet made clear if such forms of expression are illegal.

The law has had a chilling effect on yellow shops that support the protest movement. Many have removed protest artwork and sticky notes bearing words of encouragement from customers, out of fear that they could land them in trouble with the authorities. Some shop owners, like Tan Wong, have instead put up blank sticky notes to show solidarity with the movement.

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