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Hong Kong: 'Human Rights Emergency' declared on first anniversary of National Security Law

Legislation imposed by Beijing was implemented one year ago and at least 118 arrested since law came into force

Chinese-style imprisonment sees people being jailed before they are convicted and ‘presumed guilty rather than innocent’

34,300 applications for British national overseas visa scheme in first 3 months of 2021

‘This sweeping and repressive legislation threatens to make the city a human rights wasteland increasingly resembling mainland China’ - Yamini Mishra

Hong Kong’s National Security Law (NSL) has decimated the city’s freedoms and created a human rights emergency, Amnesty International said in a new briefing published today (30 June), one year after the Beijing-imposed legislation took effect.

The briefing, In the Name of National Security, details how the law has given the Hong Kong authorities free rein to illegitimately criminalise dissent, while stripping away the rights of those it targets. 

Based on analysis of court judgments, court hearing notes and interviews with activists targeted under the NSL, the briefing shows how the legislation has been used to carry out a wide range of human rights violations over the past 12 months.

Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director, said:

“In one year, the National Security Law has put Hong Kong on a rapid path to becoming a police state and created a human rights emergency for the people living there.

“From politics to culture, education to media, the law has infected every part of Hong Kong society, and fomented a climate of fear that forces residents to think twice about what they say, what they tweet and how they live their lives.

“Ultimately, this sweeping and repressive legislation threatens to make the city a human rights wasteland increasingly resembling mainland China.”

The government has repeatedly used “national security” as a pretext to justify censorship, harassment, arrests and prosecutions. There is also clear evidence indicating that the so-called human rights safeguards set out in the NSL are effectively useless.

Bail reversal violates right to fair trial

People charged under the law are effectively presumed guilty rather than innocent, meaning they are denied bail unless they can prove they will not “continue to commit acts endangering national security”.

An estimated 70 per cent of those officially prosecuted under the NSL are currently being held in custody after having been denied bail. The presumption of innocence is an essential part of the right to fair trial.

Between 1 July 2020 and 23 June 2021, police arrested or ordered the arrest of at least 118 people under the NSL. As of 23 June 2021, 64 people have been formally charged, of whom 45 are presently in pretrial detention.

The briefing also outlines how the authorities have used the NSL to crack down on international political advocacy, arresting or ordering the arrest of 12 individuals for “colluding” or “conspiracy to collude” with “foreign forces” because they were in contact with foreign diplomats, called for sanctions from other countries or called for other countries to provide asylum for those fleeing from persecution. Others were targeted for their social media posts or for giving interviews to foreign media.

The NSL has also been used to expand powers for law enforcement investigators – including giving the Hong Kong Police national security unit the ability to search properties, freeze and confiscate assets or seize journalistic materials. The acclaimed pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was raided twice under such powers, before its forced closure last week. Such unchecked powers leave little room to prevent potential human rights violations during the investigative process.

In response to the law, the UK announced the formation of a visa scheme which allows holders of British national overseas status and their immediate families to apply for ‘BNO entry visas’ and ultimately to settle in the UK. In the first three months of 2021, there were 34,300 applications for the BNO route.

Deliberately vague law passed without consultation

The NSL was unanimously passed by China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee and enacted in Hong Kong on 30 June 2020 without any formal, meaningful public or other local consultation.

The law targets alleged acts of “secession”, “subversion of state power”, “terrorist activities” and “collusion with foreign or external forces to endanger national security”.

This sweeping definition of “national security”, which follows that of the Chinese central authorities, lacks clarity and legal predictability and has been used arbitrarily as a pretext to restrict the human rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association and liberty, as well as to repress dissent and political opposition.

The NSL’s arbitrary application and imprecise criminal definitions effectively make it impossible to know how and when it might be deemed as violated, resulting in an instant chilling effect across Hong Kong from day one.

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