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National security laws and pandemic: a destructive combination for human rights in Hong Kong

07 Apr

National security laws and pandemic: a destructive combination for human rights in Hong Kong

Amnesty International Hong Kong warned of unprecedented pressure and challenges for human rights under the Hong Kong national security law and the COVID-19 Pandemic in its annual review.   

The Hong Kong national security law enacted on 30 June 2020 grants law enforcement agencies wide-ranging powers due to the authorities’ overly broad and vague definition of “national security”. The human rights review details multiple incidents of the authorities depriving people in Hong Kong of their basic human rights under the pretext of “maintaining national security”. 

The Hong Kong national security law enacted on 30 June 2020 grants law enforcement agencies wide-ranging powers due to the authorities’ overly broad and vague definition of “national security”. Source: Chan Long Hei/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“Any law restricting human rights on the grounds of national security and pandemic prevention must have clear provisions and definitions to avoid abuse and excessive interpretation,” said Amnesty International Hong Kong.       

“The Hong Kong government must fulfill its responsibilities stated in international human rights conventions and local human rights laws. The authorities should not deprive people in Hong Kong of their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association in the name of ‘ensuring national security’ or ‘controlling the pandemic’.”  

The national security law fueled unprecedented oppression of Hong Kong’s press and academic freedom last year.   

In August 2020, the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police Force arrested Jimmy Lai, founder of the Apple Daily newspaper, for alleged collusion with foreign forces. Hundreds of police officers were mobilized to search the media outlet’s headquarters and browsed through sensitive news materials.  

In August 2020, Hundreds of police officers were mobilized to search the media outlet’s headquarters and browsed through sensitive news materials.  Source: Apple Daily

Meanwhile, multiple teachers and scholars accused of advocating for Hong Kong’s independence, were subjected to unfair treatment, including disciplinary sanctions and deregistration.  

Amnesty Hong Kong’s review also records incidents where the government deprived people of their right to freedom of peaceful assembly through numerous emergency public health measures.   

Despite rally organizers promising to adhere to disease prevention measures such as social distancing, the police used the pandemic as an excuse to deny the right to peaceful assembly, including during the June Fourth Tiananmen vigil and the 1 July march. Social gathering restrictions, the anti-mask law, and the Public Order Ordinance were also used to prosecute participants in peaceful assemblies.   

Police used the pandemic as an excuse to deny the right to peaceful assembly, including during the June Fourth Tiananmen vigil and the 1 July march. Source: NOW News

The rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association are enshrined by the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) endorsed by Article 39 of the Hong Kong Basic Law, which state that those rights are subject only to restrictions or punishment provided by law and necessary to protect a legitimate aim, such as national security, public safety, public order, public health or morals, or the rights and freedoms of others. 

The Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Access to Information also state that expression which does not constitute a threat to national security includes, but is not limited to, that which “advocates non-violent change of government policy or the government itself”, or “constitutes criticism of, or insult to, the nation, the state or its symbols, the government, its agencies or public officials”. 

Unprecedented pressure and challenges for human rights had been brought by the Hong Kong national security law and the COVID-19 Pandemic. Source: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

“In a climate where basic human rights are constantly being challenged, ensuring effective implementation of international human rights conventions applicable in Hong Kong is more crucial than ever,” said Amnesty International Hong Kong.

“The various regular review procedures for international human rights conventions in the coming year are an opportunity, to develop an effective communication between Hong Kong’s government and its citizens. This can ensure that the human rights of people in Hong Kong are protected.”  

To read the full text of Year-end Hong Kong Human Rights Review 2020, Please click the link below:

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