YouTube blocks account of Hong Kong's sole leadership candidate

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Former Hong Kong Chief Secretary for Administration and Chief Executive election candidate John Lee, leaves at the electoral affairs office after submitted his candidacy, in Hong Kong, China, April 13, 2022. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
  • Campaign channel removed to comply with U.S. sanctions
  • Lee is sole candidate for Hong Kong's leadership
  • Former security official is under US sanctions
  • Has Beijing's backing

HONG KONG, April 20 (Reuters) - YouTube blocked the account of Hong Kong's sole leadership candidate John Lee on Wednesday because of U.S. sanctions against him, while Facebook owner Meta said he could keep his account but not use payment services.

The move, which has no bearing on his chances of winning office, follows the imposition of U.S. sanctions on Lee and other Hong Kong and Chinese officials in 2020 over what Washington said was their role in curbing the city’s freedoms under a national security law Beijing imposed in June that year.

Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O), which owns YouTube, said it had taken down Lee's campaign account to comply with U.S. sanction laws as Hong Kong's former security chief and No. 2 official prepares for a leadership election on May 8.

"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," the company said in an email response to Reuters.

Separately, Facebook owner Meta Platforms (FB.O) said that while Lee can keep "demonetized presences" on Facebook and Instagram, it had taken steps to prevent use of payments services. Lee's Facebook page was still visible on Wednesday.

'BULLYING'

Lee, a former deputy police commissioner, said the block would not affect his unchallenged campaign bid to lead Hong Kong for the next five years.

"Those so-called sanctions on me are unreasonable, are bullying, are intentionally pressuring, trying to force me to be hesitant. But as I’ve repeatedly stressed, this unreasonable behaviour will only make me convinced that I’m doing the right thing," Lee told a media briefing.

"With regards to some (social) media (platforms) which I will have no access to, I feel disappointed but this will not affect my election effort."

While the internet in mainland China is heavily censored and access to foreign social media platforms and many news sites is blocked, Hong Kong enjoys greater freedoms under the "one country, two systems" framework agreed when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Critics of the Hong Kong government say those freedoms are being eroded by Beijing, which authorities deny.

Lee, who has Beijing's backing,aims to replace Chief Executive Carrie Lam who will step down on June 30 after governing the city through a period of unprecedented anti-government protests and COVID-19.

He is expected to announce his policy platform this month, media reports said.

Lee has picked nearly 150 heavyweights, including the city's richest man, Li Ka-shing, and other powerful businessmen and politicians, to join his advisory team in a bid to show broad support for his candidacy.

A former career police officer, Lee is expected to prioritise security issues if he gets the top job, having previously urged new legislation to fully implement the sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing.

Authorities in Hong Kong and China say that law was needed to restore stability after widespread anti-government protests in 2019.

Since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it has had four chief executives, all of whom have struggled to balance the democratic aspirations of some residents with the vision of China's Communist leaders.

All four leaders have been backed by China and were chosen by an "election committee" stacked with Beijing loyalists.

Reporting by Josh Ye and Clare Jim, additional reporting by Alun John; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree, Vinay Dwivedi and Gareth Jones

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