UN Set to Review Deteriorating Human Rights Situation in Hong Kong
On July 7, the Hong Kong government started undergoing an interactive dialogue at the United Nations regarding its implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Further dialogue sessions will take place on July 8 and 12.
This represents a rare opportunity for the international community to assess the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in Hong Kong since the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security (National Security Law) was enacted on June 30, 2020.
Hong Kong Democracy Council (HKDC) and the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) have written a joint submission to the UN Human Rights Committee, the treaty body responsible for monitoring the Hong Kong government’s compliance with the ICCPR, to aid in its review.
Our key findings include:
- There are 1,024 political prisoners in Hong Kong (as of May 27, 2022)—people who have been imprisoned, placed in juvenile detention, or in pre-trial detention for their political speech and actions, their political identity, and/or have been charged with inherently political crimes such as sedition, or the four crimes included under the National Security Law (secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist activities).
- In all, more than 10,500 people have been arrested for their political speech and actions since June 2019. So far, about 3,000 of them have been prosecuted, with over 600 political defendants still awaiting trial.
- The 2020 National Security Law combined with the government’s use of colonial-era legal provisions on sedition have effectively criminalized the exercise of civil and political freedoms guaranteed by the ICCPR.
- Independence of the judiciary has been severely compromised, with specially designated judges for national security cases and lack of jury trials.
- These court proceedings feature significant violations of the right of defendants to fair trials and raise concerns about their access to justice. The violations include the mandatory presumption of recidivism resulting in prolonged pre-trial detentions and the denial of the right of legal aid recipients to choose their own counsel.
This criminalization of civil and political rights has led to a complete transformation of civic life in Hong Kong:
- Freedom of expression has been severely curtailed, with authorities arresting and prosecuting people for a wide range of expression, from chanting political slogans or posting online to publishing children’s books. The prosecution of journalists and news executives has led to the closure of sixteen media outlets since 2021.
- Freedom of peaceful assembly, already under assault for some time, has been indefinitely suspended following the implementation of pandemic restrictions on public gatherings on March 28, 2020, leading to an immediate cessation of public demonstrations and events like the annual candlelight vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre that drew tens of thousands of participants in previous years. Even as infection rates have fallen and other pandemic measures, such as those for indoor gatherings, have been lifted, the restriction on public gatherings continues to be strictly enforced. In addition, dozens of organizers of peaceful demonstrations have been charged with organizing and inciting unlawful assembly under the Public Order Ordinance.
- Freedom of association has likewise deteriorated precipitously, as authorities pursue the leaders and staff of civil society organizations through prosecution or threats of prosecution under the National Security Law. Authorities have also mandated closure of some organizations outright, but the political intimidation emanating from the prosecutions has led to the closure of more than 80 organizations as of 2021, ranging from labor unions to political parties and religious groups.
- Freedom to participate in public affairs—the very freedom Hong Kongers exercised in history-making demonstrations during the period of this review—has been essentially abolished. The rights to vote, stand for election, and to hold public office on general terms of equality were only ever partially realized, but they have since become the subject of criminal prosecution and imprisonment. Fifty-four candidates and organizers in a pro-democracy primary were arrested and 47 charged in early 2021 under the National Security Law, and to date, 180 opposition party leaders have been arrested and prosecuted.
“This CCPR review is happening at a critical time for Hong Kong. Thousands of pro-democracy supporters are awaiting trial as the government attempts to reframe the meaning and legality of Hong Kong’s democracy movement by criminalizing it. In reaffirming the civil and political rights of the people of Hong Kong, the Committee will repudiate the government’s attempt to demonize the people of Hong Kong for seeking democracy and human rights, and the government’s efforts to rewrite history,” said Ramona Li, Senior Researcher and Advocate for CHRD.
“Few places in the world have political and civil rights deteriorate quite as rapidly as in Hong Kong in the past three years. The growing number of political prisoners is rivaled by Burma and Belarus. The Chinese Communist Party is decimating the liberal society of Hong Kong and replacing it with an authoritarian one. This is nothing short of a human rights catastrophe. We urge the Committee to recognize the full scale of this calamity and that the review can serve as a mechanism of accountability at a time when all such mechanisms have disappeared in Hong Kong,” said lead researcher of the report, Brian Kern of Hong Kong Democracy Council.
HKDC and CHRD urge the PRC and Hong Kong governments to fully comply with the ICCPR by taking, at a minimum, the following steps:
- Cease prosecuting all defendants for peaceful political speech and actions; and immediately release all those who have been detained merely for exercising their human rights and attempting to engage in public affairs;
- Introduce genuine and equal universal suffrage without further delay in accordance with legal obligations stipulated in the Basic Law;
- In line with the introduction of genuine and equal universal suffrage, rescind the so-called “patriots-only electoral reforms.
- Abolish the National Security Law and dismantle the national security apparatus, including the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police Force; the Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region; the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region; and the practice of designating national security law judges;
- Abolish the sedition law (sections 9 and 10 of the Crimes Ordinance, Cap. 200).