YouTube on Wednesday suspended a channel promoting John Lee’s uncontested bid to be Hong Kong’s next leader, saying the move was required by US sanctions against the ex-security chief.
Lee is expected to be appointed the business hub’s new chief executive by a committee of 1,500 Beijing loyalists next month. He faces no rivals.
He has used YouTube, Facebook and Instagram accounts to promote his platform, although no concrete policies have been published so far.
Asked about his removal from YouTube, Lee condemned the US sanctions as “unreasonable bullying” for his work defending China’s national security.
“The so-called sanctions… are meant to impose pressure and make me hesitate,” he told reporters.
“But their unreasonable moves will only reinforce my belief that I have been doing the right thing.”
Lee said while he was “disappointed” with YouTube’s decision, his push to become the city’s next leader would not be affected, adding that he would start visiting local communities after pandemic social-distancing rules are relaxed Thursday.
A former top cop who rose to become Hong Kong’s security tsar, Lee was a key figure in the suppression of huge democracy protests three years ago and the subsequent Beijing-directed crackdown.
Parent company Google defended removing the channel, saying it was made in compliance with US sanctions that ban American companies and individuals from providing services to targeted officials.
“After review and consistent with these policies, we terminated the Johnlee2022 YouTube channel,” a company spokesperson said.
Meta told AFP on Wednesday that Lee was able to maintain Facebook and Instagram accounts because they were “demonetised”.
“We have taken steps to prevent the use of payments services,” a Meta spokesperson said.
Tam Yiu-chung, a top adviser for Lee as well as Hong Kong’s sole representative to China’s top lawmaking body, also criticised YouTube’s decision.
“They simply said we have violated their relevant policies,” Tam said. “We find this completely unreasonable.”
“They cannot stop us from disseminating the information for our campaign and our candidate to the public,” he added.
Lee was among 11 top Hong Kong and Beijing officials sanctioned by the US Treasury in 2020 in the wake of China’s imposition of a sweeping security law aimed at snuffing out dissent in the financial hub.
Other officials sanctioned include outgoing Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, former police chiefs Chris Tang and Stephen Lo, as well as Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng.
Lam once joked she had to keep piles of cash at home now that she was locked out of the international banking system by the sanctions.
China deploys its “Great Firewall” to block citizens from accessing Western social media platforms, but allows its officials, diplomats and state media to use them.
Hong Kong does not currently restrict access to Western social media, but its reputation as a press freedom bastion has plunged in the wake of the current crackdown.