Wednesday 23 March 2022
The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) calls on the international community to suspend extradition treaties with Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (HKSAR or Hong Kong) amid alleged intimidation by Hong Kong authorities of human rights defenders, including Benedict Rogers, a British citizen and co-founder of Hong Kong Watch – a non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in the United Kingdom that monitors the human rights situation in Hong Kong.
Rogers received a letter from the Hong Kong National Security Bureau and a notice from the Hong Kong Police dated 10 March 2022 that ordered him to take down the Hong Kong Watch website within 72 hours of receipt of the notice. In their correspondence, the authorities asserted that the website posed a threat to China’s national security. They alleged a violation of Article 29 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (the National Security Law) imposed by China in June 2020. Failure to comply could result in a fine of HKD 100,000 (£10,000) and a prison term of one year.
IBAHRI Co-Chair and Immediate Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc, commented: ‘The last few years have seen a significant deterioration of human rights in Hong Kong as China’s grip on the city tightens. The situation needs to be monitored, and human rights defenders must be able to do this important work without constant threats of imprisonment. It is hugely concerning that the National Security Law is being used to silence human rights defenders not only in Hong Kong, but also outside of the jurisdiction. The IBAHRI calls for the international community to suspend extradition treaties with Hong Kong to protect those attempting to protect human rights wherever they reside’.
The letter from the National Security Bureau stated that a ‘[c]riminal investigation reveals that Hong Kong Watch has been engaging in activities seriously interfering in the affairs of the HKSAR and jeopardising the national security of the People’s Republic of China’ and as such, committed the Collusion Offence. This offence triggers punishment of no less than three years’ imprisonment. The letter cited, as falling within the purview of the offence, the activities of ‘lobbying foreign countries to impose sanctions or blockades and engaging 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 continued that ‘the Commissioner of Police has reasonable grounds for suspecting that the publication of the website of “Hong Kong Watch” is likely to constitute or to cause the occurrence of the Collusion Offence which is an offence endangering national security’.
IBAHRI Co-Chair, Mark Stephens CBE, stated: ‘This is yet another glaring example of how China’s authorities are making it difficult for human rights advocates to investigate and expose any human rights violations in Hong Kong. Such threats aim to silence the voices of human rights defenders and chill the intentions of others. The IBAHRI condemns the intimidation of the much-respected Hong Kong Watch.’ He added: ‘If we do not stand up for human rights defenders now, and protect them from such attacks, including by suspending extradition treaties, there will not be many defenders left; this likely being the ultimate goal of China’s ruling group’.
More than 160 people have been arrested and over 50 civil society organisations have been forced to close in Hong Kong since the National Security Law was enacted in June 2020. The law marks a continuation of the so-termed ‘709 crackdown’ on human rights lawyers and defenders, ongoing since July 2015.
At the time of writing, 20 countries have extradition agreements with Hong Kong. Several of them, including Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, have suspended their agreements following the erosion of human rights in HKSAR. However, there are many countries that have not followed suit, including the Czech Republic, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea and Sri Lanka. Thus, travelling to these countries poses a threat for human rights defenders who may be targeted with the National Security Laws and extradited to Hong Kong to face charges.