Four United Nations (UN) international law and human rights experts are pressing Hong Kong authorities to initiate a thorough review of the controversial National Security Law imposed by Beijing, arguing that it is “incompatible” with international civil rights and civil liberties standards.
In a stark statement posted on the official UN website on Thursday, Oct. 14, the four independent experts accused the authorities of abusing terrorism and sedition charges to stifle local opposition voices and freedom of expression.
The experts’ statement on Tuesday asserted that there “needs to be a reinvigoration of an independent judiciary in Hong Kong, a pause in applying this law, and a fundamental reconsideration of its use.”
They also spoke about the importance of not allowing charges of subversion and terrorism to be so easily brought against citizens. Such labels should not be applied to crimes that do not strictly comply with what is provided for in international legal standards.
“The cheapening of the seriousness of terrorist acts and sedition offences, when Governments improperly use them to justify quelling domestic dissent, limiting protests and curbing criticism by civil society and human rights defenders, is deeply troubling.”
The brief pointed to a case involving Chow Hang-tung, a prominent lawyer and former vice-chairman of the now-dissolved Hong Kong Alliance in Support of China’s Democratic Patriotic Movements, a local group known for organizing the annual vigil in Hong Kong to commemorate the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Chow, along with three other Alliance leaders, was arrested on Sept. 8 after they “refused to cooperate” in a national security investigation, in which the advocacy group was accused of being a “foreign agent.”
Hours after being detained, Chow was charged with “incitement to subversion” under the National Security Law. The same charge was also used as a pretext to keep in prison two other Alliance leaders, Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho, who have been serving sentences for their role in unauthorized assemblies during 2019.
The released members, after heavy pressure from the authorities and watching fellow members and leaders of the movement being unjustly detained, decided to dissolve the alliance after 32 years of peaceful activism.
In line with UN experts, international rights groups have expressed similar concerns about the impact of the National Security Law in Hong Kong.
In June, Amnesty International said the law “has created a human rights emergency” in the city. That same month, Reporters Without Borders stated that the law has put the city’s press freedom “in grave danger.”
For its part, the U.S. government, especially during Donald Trump’s presidency, has sanctioned more than a dozen Chinese and Hong Kong officials for their role in suppressing democracy in Hong Kong.
The National Security Law was imposed under pressure from the CCP in June 2020, which was passed without going through the local legislature after a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest.
The measure gave the police new powers, alarming democratic, civil society groups and business partners, as such laws have been widely used to silence and punish dissidents in China.