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24 NGOs to Carrie Lam: cease the criminal investigations of 5 human rights observers, drop all related charges

12 Feb

24 NGOs to Carrie Lam: cease the criminal investigations of 5 human rights observers, drop all related charges

24 NGOs to Carrie Lam: cease the criminal investigations into 5 human rights observers, drop all related charges

Arrest of human rights monitors in breach of the Hong Kong government’s international obligations

Today, 24 human rights organizations published an open letter to Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, expressing concern over the arrest of five human rights observers whilst conducting their work at protests. These arrests contravene international human rights law and standards, and raise the question of whether the Hong Kong SAR government continues to honour its international obligations to safeguard the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

In January 2020, three observers from Civil Rights Observer (CRO) were arrested for “taking part in an unlawful assembly” outside the SOGO department store in Causeway Bay. In November 2019, two members of Rights Exposure’s human rights observer team were arrested on “suspicion of participating in a riot” in the vicinity of the Polytechnic University of Hong Kong. At the time of their respective arrests, all five observers were wearing vests and ID cards that clearly identified their role, and at no time did they obstruct police operations.

Two of the arrested human rights observers from CRO were only given access to their lawyers after being detained for more than 20 and 36 hours respectively. The incident raises concerns about whether the police are honouring the right of arrestees to seek immediate legal assistance. In addition, each of the five observers were subjected to verbal abuse from police officers specifically in relation to their role as human rights observers.

“The hostility from the Hong Kong Police Force aimed at journalists and human rights observers is extremely worrying. This attitude has put their safety and work under threat. This has not only led to violations of the right to freedom of press and information, but also reflects the Hong Kong Police Force’s reluctance to be held accountable for their actions”, said Icarus Wong Ho-yin, spokesperson for Civil Rights Observer.

The rights of human rights observers to conduct their work is established under a number of international human rights standards, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 19 and 21) – which is incorporated into Hong Kong law through the Bill of Rights. Accordingly, no matter whether an assembly is declared unlawful, is no longer peaceful, or is dispersed, it does not terminate the right of civil society groups to monitor it. Observers should not be harassed, arrested or penalized as a result of their attendance at a protest for observation. Confiscation and/or damaging or destruction of notes and visual or audio recording equipment of the observers by the police should be prohibited and punished.

“Human rights observers have a legitimate right under international law and standards to monitor protests, irrespective of whether the police declare them unlawful or take action to disperse. The arrest of the five observers by the police was arbitrary and in breach of the Hong Kong government’s international human rights obligations. Carrie Lam should immediately send a clear signal that human rights observers have a right to conduct their work without being harassed or arrested, and ensure that the cases against the five are dropped and their belongings returned immediately”, said Robert Godden, co-founder of Rights Exposure.

The Hong Kong police have engaged in an escalating pattern of excessive force and unlawful tactics against people participating in assemblies since June 2019. To date there is a wealth of video evidence and personal testimony documenting human rights violations committed by the Hong Kong Police Force, including actions that are clearly in breach of the police’s own guidelines on the use of force. However, to date, the Hong Kong government continues to insist that the police only use minimal force and refuses to establish an independent commission of inquiry into police misconduct.

“The presence of human rights observers facilitates the accountability of public officers as well as public discussion on improving measures to protect the right to peaceful assembly. Instead of harassing and arresting human rights observers, the authorities should respect, protect and facilitate the observation of protests by human rights observers”, said Law Yuk-Kai, Director of Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor. The authority has pledged in the Hong Kong Legislative Council on 21 January 2015 to “make proper arrangements to facilitate such monitoring work.” Human rights observers have yet to see such arrangements.

The signatories of the open letter are also calling for a fully independent, impartial, effective and prompt investigation into the use of force by the Hong Kong Police Force during the Extradition Bill protests. This includes excessive use of force, allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in detention, and the treatment of journalists, observers and other human rights defenders doing their legitimate work at the protests.

Man-Kei Tam, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong said:“The Hong Kong police have engaged in a disturbing pattern of unlawful tactics against people in protests since the start of the Hong Kong protests in June 2019. Amnesty International is urgently calling for an independent and impartial investigation that can contribute to establishing accountability and delivering justice, as there is little trust in existing internal mechanisms such as the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC).”

The signatories of the letter call on the Hong Kong SAR government to:
1. Respect, protect and facilitate the right of human rights observers to monitor all aspects of assemblies, even when an assembly is declared “unlawful” or a “riot”;
2. Immediately cease the criminal investigations into the five human rights observers, drop all related charges and return all their belongings and equipment forthwith;
3. Establish a fully independent, impartial, effective and prompt investigation into the use of force by law enforcement during the Extradition Bill protests. This includes excessive use of force by police in the largely peaceful protest on 12 June and other instances, allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in detention and the treatment of journalists, and other observers such as here.

Joint Letter: https://bit.ly/2vZEIfx

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