March 14, 2022
Hong Kong Watch has received a formal warning from the Hong Kong Police Force’s National Security Department regarding its website possibly breaching the National Security Law. This makes Hong Kong Watch one of the first foreign organisations to be targeted under the draconian law.
In the letter and subsequent email, addressed to Hong Kong Watch’s Chief Executive Benedict Rogers, the National Security Department accuses Hong Kong Watch of:
‘Engaging in activities seriously interfering in the affairs of the HKSAR and jeopardising national security of the People’s Republic of China. Such acts and activities, including lobbying foreign countries to impose sanctions or blockade and engage in other hostile activities against the People’s Republic of China or the HKSAR, and seriously disrupting the formulation and implementation of laws or policies by the HKSAR Government or by the Central People’s Government.’
The letter accuses Hong Kong Watch of violating Article 29 of the National Security Law, which criminalises collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security. It warns that Hong Kong Watch could face a fine of HK$100,000 or its Chief Executive could face three years in jail for the offence.
As a result of this accusation, the Hong Kong Police in its letter has confirmed that it is using the National Security Law to block Hong Kong Watch’s website in Hong Kong, which was previously reported in early February 2022.
Since the National Security Law came into force in July 2020, over 50 civil society organisations have been forced to close in Hong Kong. The full letter from the Hong Kong Police can be read below. Lord Patten of Barnes, the last British Governor of Hong Kong and a patron of Hong Kong Watch, commenting on the letter said: “This is another disgraceful example of Mr Putin’s friends in Beijing and their quislings in Hong Kong trying not only to stamp out freedom of expression and information in Hong Kong but also to internationalise their campaign against evidence, freedom and honesty.” Lord Alton of Liverpool, a patron of Hong Kong Watch and one of the Parliamentarians sanctioned by China last year, said:
“This represents a significant escalation in the Chinese Communist Party regime's attempts to silence dissent well beyond its borders and it signifies the attempted application of the abhorrent 'extraterritoriality' clause of the draconian National Security Law which Beijing imposed on Hong Kong. The result of that appalling law is the total destruction of Hong Kong's freedoms and autonomy, and now the regime is using that law to try to undermine freedom around the world. It is a direct assault on freedom of expression worldwide, and a shocking attempt to intimidate and threaten an organisation which has been at the forefront of global advocacy for Hong Kong.
This draconian attack on Hong Kong Watch is testimony to its effective advocacy. As a Patron of Hong Kong Watch I know that the team that run it will not be silenced by this - on the contrary, we will renew our efforts, which are needed now more than ever. I hope the British government and other governments in the free world will take this threat very seriously, respond swiftly and robustly to condemn it, and unite to defend freedoms everywhere where they are under assault.” Commenting on the letter and email, Hong Kong Watch’s Chief Executive, Benedict Rogers, said:
"By threatening a UK-based NGO with financial penalties and jail for merely reporting on the human rights situation in Hong Kong, this letter exemplifies why Hong Kong's National Security Law is so dangerous. We will not be silenced by an authoritarian security apparatus which, through a mixture of senseless brutality and ineptitude, has triggered rapid mass migration out of the city and shut down civil society. Irrespective of this attempt to intimidate our staff and censor our website in Hong Kong, we will continue to be a voice for the people of Hong Kong and those brave political prisoners who have been jailed under this authoritarian regime. We will redouble our efforts to expand lifeboat schemes for those not covered by BNO and will continue to call for Hong Kong officials to face sanctions for their destruction of the city’s autonomy and freedom. The irony is that many of Hong Kong’s police officers and government officials today hold foreign passports, send their children to be educated in the West, and have their savings held in Western banks overseas to avoid Xi Jinping’s ongoing “corruption” crackdowns - and so the likelihood is that these sanctions would be quite effective.” Sarah Champion MP, a Labour MP, Patron of Hong Kong Watch and Chair of the House of Commons International Development Committee, says:
"For the Chinese Communist Party regime and its proxies in Hong Kong to be threatening a highly reputable international human rights advocacy organisation and its co-founder and Chief Executive, a British national, with imprisonment simply for speaking out for Hong Kong's freedoms and autonomy is truly outrageous. I urge the British government and other democracies around the world to make very clear to the authorities in Hong Kong that such threats and attempts to silence legitimate freedom of expression well beyond its borders are abhorrent and unacceptable and we will not stand for it. As a Patron of Hong Kong Watch I applaud our team for their dedication and commitment. I know they will not be silenced." Former Leader of the Conservative Party, Conservative Cabinet Minister and co-chair of IPAC, Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, said:
“Even as the world watches the appalling attack on Ukraine, this attempt by China to arrest British citizens outside of China should remind us all that Totalitarian China is a threat to freedom everywhere.” Alistair Carmichael MP, Patron of Hong Kong Watch, the Liberal Democrats' Home Affairs spokesperson, and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong, said:
"The Chinese Communist Party regime and its puppet authority in Hong Kong has already destroyed Hong Kong’s freedoms, in total breach of its obligations under an international treaty, the Sino British Joint Declaration. Now they are threatening British citizens and an international advocacy organisation with imprisonment for defending Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy and for speaking out against the grave human rights violations in Hong Kong. This is a completely intolerable assault on freedom of expression around the world. The British government must lead democracies around the world in condemning this harassment of an extremely effective and highly respected international organisation, and its co-founder and Chief Executive, and in standing up for freedom, both for Hong Kongers and now for ourselves." Senator Leo Housakos, a patron of Hong Kong Watch in Canada, said:
“This bullying by the Chinese communist regime is a result of continued appeasement by the West. The CCP has grown increasingly belligerent and emboldened, not only toward Hong Kongers but also toward the rest of the world.
These latest threats and intimidation are an attempt to hinder the incredible work being done by Hong Kong Watch, not only in Hong Kong but also in the UK and Canada.
Hong Kong Watch continues to have my steadfast support. And I will be calling on the Canadian Government to make it clear that the draconian National Security Law will not be used to intimidate Canadians or anyone involved with Hong Kong Watch.” One of Hong Kong Watch’s US Patrons, former US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, who also served as a Senator, Governor of Kansas and a Presidential candidate, said: “It is unbelievable the Chinese government would try to close such a reputable group. The tragic elimination of basic human rights in China and Hong Kong will inevitably lead to economic and security declines.”
The letter from the Hong Kong National Security Bureau in full :
Dear Mr Rogers, We refer to your email of 16 February 2022 to the Chief Executive, which has been relayed to the Security Bureau for follow up. 2. I would draw your attention to Article 29 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region1 (“National Security Law”) which provides that a person who requests a foreign country or an institution, organization or individual outside the mainland, Hong Kong and Macao of the People’s Republic of China, or conspires with a foreign country or an institution, organization or individual outside the mainland, Hong Kong, and Macao of the People’s Republic of China, or directly or indirectly receives instructions, control, funding or other kinds of support from a foreign country or an institution, organization or individual outside the mainland, Hong Kong, and Macao of the People’s Republic of China to, inter alia, seriously disrupt the formulation and implementation of laws or policies by the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region (“HKSAR”) or by the Central People’s Government, which is likely to cause serious consequences; or impose sanctions or blockade, or engage in other hostile activities against the HKSAR or the People’s Republic of China commits an offence, namely, “Collusion with a Foreign Country or with External Elements to Endanger National Security” (“Collusion Offence”). Article 38 of the National Security Law provides that the National Security Law shall apply to offences committed against the HKSAR from outside the HKSAR by a person who is not a permanent resident of HKSAR. 3. Criminal investigation reveals that “Hong Kong Watch” has been engaging in activities seriously interfering in the affairs of the HKSAR and jeopardising national security of the People’s Republic of China. Such acts and activities, including lobbying foreign countries to impose sanctions or blockade and engage in other hostile activities against the People’s Republic of China or the HKSAR, and seriously disrupting the formulation and implementation of laws or policies by the HKSAR Government or by the Central People’s Government, constitute the Collusion Offence contrary to Article 29 of the National Security Law. A person who commits the offence shall be sentenced to imprisonment of not less than 3 years to life imprisonment. 4. As the Co-founder and Chief Executive of “Hong Kong Watch”, the acts and activities of “Hong Kong Watch” have been carried out under your directions. You are fully responsible for the acts and activities of “Hong Kong Watch” and liable for the Collusion Offence under the National Security Law. 5. Further, pursuant to Article 43 of the National Security Law and Schedule 4 to the Implementation Rules for Article 43 of the National Security Law (“Schedule 4 to the Rules”2), the Police may require publisher(s) and service provider(s) to remove or take a disabling action on electronic message(s) on an electronic platform the publication of which is likely to constitute an offence endangering national security or is likely to cause the occurrence of an offence endangering national security. 6. In this respect, the Commissioner of Police has reasonable grounds for suspecting that the publication of the website of “Hong Kong Watch” at https://www.hongkongwatch.org/ (“Website”) is likely to constitute or to cause the occurrence of the Collusion Offence which is an offence endangering national security. 7. On this basis and with the approval of the Secretary for Security, the Commissioner of Police has authorized a designated officer to exercise the power under section 7(2) of Schedule 4 to the Rules to issue a notice (“Notice”) to you, as the publisher of the Website, to remove the Website within 72 hours from the sending of the Notice3. For details, please refer to the Notice issued to you by the designated officer for the Commissioner of Police dated 10 March 2022. A person who fails to comply with the requirement in the Notice commits an offence and is liable on conviction on indictment to a fine of $100,000 and to imprisonment for 1 year4. 8. You and “Hong Kong Watch” are obliged to remove the Website in compliance with the Notice without delay, and immediately cease engaging in any acts and activities in contravention of the National Security Law or any other laws of Hong Kong. Should you fail to do so, further action will be instituted against you and “Hong Kong Watch” without further notice. 9. If you have any questions, please contact Ms Ann Cheng of the Police at (852) 3660 0761 or email@example.com. Security Bureau