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The severe erosion of freedoms and rights in Hong Kong must be on the agenda for the UN’s Human Righ

April 5, 2022

As the UN’s Human Rights Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, finalises her preparations ahead of her long-delayed visit to China in May, Hong Kong must be at the top of the agenda amidst the drastic degradation in freedoms and rights in the territory.

The erosion of freedoms has accelerated since the implementation of Hong Kong’s draconian National Security Law (NSL) on 1 July 2020, which includes vaguely worded and broadly defined criminalisation of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. Since its implementation, press freedom has been dismantled, almost all pro-democracy politicians and activists have been jailed or driven into exile, and the right to free assembly has been banned.

Human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have closed their offices in Hong Kong over fears for staff safety, labelling the situation ‘a human rights emergency’. Extraterritoriality has been built into the NSL, meaning that individuals and entities abroad can be targeted.

Our own organisation, Hong Kong Watch, has become the first known international organisation to be threatened with prosecution under the NSL by the Hong Kong Police Force in a disturbing signal of Hong Kong’s intent to expand repression and banish alternatives to the official narrative.

Benedict Rogers, co-founder and Chief Executive of Hong Kong Watch, said: “This is an urgent opportunity for the High Commissioner to raise the severe human rights violations with the authorities in both Hong Kong and in Beijing.

“Hong Kong has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and yet the National Security Law has fundamentally compromised the constitutional safeguards which have historically protected rights and freedoms in the city.

“For Michelle Bachelet’s visit to be considered anywhere near successful, she must raise the situation in Hong Kong with the Chinese government. The High Commissioner must raise the case of political prisoners in Hong Kong, who have been denied bail and detained in custody for long periods before the start of their trials, and sentenced, in many cases, for merely opposing the Hong Kong government through their words and actions.

“She should also seek a visit to Hong Kong to inquire into the situation on the ground, accompanied by relevant Special Rapporteurs, to investigate the scope and force of the National Security Law, and determine how it breaches international human rights norms.”

Background: The crackdown on human rights in Hong Kong

Since the anti-extradition bill protests started in 2019, more than 10,000 people have been arrested in protest-related cases, and over 2,300 charged. Many of these people have been detained and are facing prosecution under the National Security Law or antiquated common law charges.

The NSL is used to silence the Hong Kong government’s critics. On one day last year, February 28, 53 individuals were formally charged with ‘conspiracy to subvert the state power’, owing to their participation and organisation of the democratic primaries in July 2020, in which over 600,000 Hong Kongers cast their votes.

Joshua Wong for instance, the 24-year-old activist who was one of the key figures in the 2014 student-led ‘Umbrella Movement’, is currently imprisoned for various ‘unauthorized assembly’ charges, and ‘conspiracy to commit subversion’ under the NSL.

Andy Li, currently remanded in custody, was arrested on suspicion of ‘collusion with foreign forces’ under the NSL in August 2020. It was reported by Apple Daily that Li is being held in solitary confinement at the maximum-security Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre and monitored by “secret-units” of the government.

Jimmy Lai, the internationally-respected entrepreneur who founded Next Media which published the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, before its forced closure in June 2021, is being held on multiple charges, which include ‘organising, inciting and participating in an unauthorized assembly’, ‘colluding with foreign powers to endanger national security’, and ‘fraud’.

Hong Kong Watch’s monthly briefings – – provide detailed updates on developments in Hong Kong.


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