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Hong Kong: Front line activists need full support of UK Government

Several arrested under controversial new law, including man with ‘Hong Kong Independence’ flag in his bag

Crimes of separatism among those which could see life imprisonment

Responding to today’s announcement that the UK will offer visas to Hong Kong citizens with British National (Overseas) Status following the imposition of a controversial new security law in the city, Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s Director, said:

“We welcome the UK Government’s evident commitment to helping Hong Kong residents, including by extending visa rights for those with British National Overseas status. This may well give heart to many who awoke this morning in a nightmare, where vaguely-worded offences are already being used to silence and repress them at every turn.

“Any new arrangements must ensure that Hong Kong police and other officials implicated in crimes against peaceful protestors aren’t given a free pass.

“Brave human rights defenders on the front line in Hong Kong have been calling for rights and freedoms to be protected for a long time and they face greater risks than ever as a result of this harsh new law.

“They now need the full support of the UK Government and must not be left at the mercy of Beijing.”

Possible life imprisonment

Under the new national security law, the full details of which were only released late last night, the crimes of separatism, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign or external forces are punishable by a minimum sentence of three years and a maximum of life imprisonment.

The Chinese Government is also set to establish an Office of Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong, with its own law-enforcement personnel and the ability to exercise jurisdiction over certain cases. This means that in certain circumstances suspects could be transferred for detention and trial in mainland China, where individuals accused of endangering national security are routinely denied fair trial rights.

Although the new law has one provision recognising generic human rights safeguards, other parts of the law allow the Office of Safeguarding National Security to exercise sweeping powers while effectively bypassing oversight by Hong Kong’s legislative and judicial system, including immunity from local jurisdiction. The law also allows local law enforcement additional investigative powers, while reducing judicial oversight.

Scores of people were detained amid protests in Hong Kong earlier today, with police stating that seven had been arrested on suspicion of violating the national security law by the late afternoon. One man was arrested after he was searched and a “Hong Kong Independence” flag found in his bag. International human rights laws and standards stipulate that peacefully expressing one’s opinion about independence does not constitute a threat to national security.

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