Hong Kong’s National Security Law has created a “human rights emergency,” Amnesty International said yesterday, a year after China imposed it on the territory to crush a democracy movement.
The legislation — which criminalizes anything authorities deem subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism with up to life in prison — has radically transformed Hong Kong’s political and legal landscape.
“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,” Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific regional director Yamini Mishra said.
Beijing said that the legislation was required to restore stability after huge and sometimes violent pro-democracy demonstrations in 2019, but promised that it would target only an “extreme minority.”
Since then, police and prosecutors have broadly applied the national security legislation, with a vast majority of the charges targeting political speech — which is widely considered a reneging on China’s assurances that Hong Kong would be allowed to maintain its key liberties and autonomy after its 1997 handover from the UK.
Amnesty released the report a week after democracy newspaper Apple Daily was forced to shut down following the arrests of its senior executives and lead editorial writer, and a freeze on its assets.
“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,” Amnesty said in the report.
The human rights group said that it analyzed court judgements and hearing notes, and interviews with democracy advocates targeted under the legislation to show how it has been used to carry out “a wide range of human rights violations.”
“Ultimately, this sweeping and repressive legislation threatens to make the city a human rights wasteland increasingly resembling mainland China,” Amnesty said.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong authorities said that since the legislation was implemented, 117 people had been arrested for “committing acts and engaging in activities that endanger national security.”
Sixty-four people have been charged, including tycoon Jimmy Lai (黎智英), prominent democracy advocates and former lawmakers.
Most defendants charged under the legislation have been denied bail due to a strict clause requiring them to persuade a court that they no longer pose a national security risk.
Last week, Hong Kong also began its first national security trial without a jury, a watershed moment for the territory with a 176-year-old common law system, where trial by jury has always been a defining feature.
The legislation has sparked concerns in some legal circles about whether judicial independence can be maintained, but Hong Kong authorities have said that the territory’s judges are committed to judicial independence and the judiciary remains “free from any interference.”
In a rare interview published by pro-Beijing magazine Eastweek yesterday to mark the first anniversary of the legislation’s imposition, Zheng Yanxiong (鄭雁雄), the head of Beijing’s national security office in the territory, said that Hong Kong’s independent judiciary “should highly manifest the nation’s will and interests.”
“It will be the biggest loophole in the rule of law if national security is not safeguarded,” he said.
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