The organization Amnesty International announced Monday, October 25, the closure of its offices in Hong Kong. “This decision, taken with a heavy heart, is due to the Hong Kong National Security Law, which in practice makes it impossible for human rights organizations to operate freely and without fear of serious reprisals from the government.”, explained in a statement the president of the international office of the NGO, Anjhula Mya Singh Bais.
“Hong Kong has long been an ideal regional base for international civil society organizations”, she continued. “But the recent targeting of local rights groups and unions is a signal of an intensified campaign by the authorities to rid the city of any dissenting voices. It is increasingly difficult for us to continue working in such an unstable environment ”, added the president of Amnesty.
The NGO has two offices in Hong Kong: its local chapter and its regional headquarters for South East Asia and the Pacific. The first will close on October 31 and the second by the end of 2021.
“Environment of repression and perpetual uncertainty”
Adopted in June 2020, the National Security Law radically transformed the political, cultural and legal landscape of the territory. According to Beijing, this draconian legislation allowed Hong Kong to regain stability after the sometimes violent pro-democracy protests of 2019.
The text severely punishes any offense considered by China to constitute secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces or terrorism. Written in a very vague manner, it in fact makes it illegal to express almost any form of opposition, with certain crimes against national security punishable by life imprisonment. “The environment of repression and perpetual uncertainty created by the law on national security makes it impossible to know what activities could lead to criminal sanctions”, lamented Amnesty International.
Second Hong Kong man convicted of “secession”
In July, the first Hong Kong man tried under the new law was sentenced to nine years in prison for riding a motorbike at a police officer while waving a flag bearing a slogan considered subversive. A second defendant was found guilty on Monday of “secession” for chanting slogans, such as “Free Hong Kong, revolution of our time!” “, or “Hong Kongers, build your own country! “. Jailed since his arrest ten months ago, the young man, the first person to be sentenced for a non-violent national security offense, will face his sentence later. He faces seven years in prison.
Trials under the National Security Act are conducted without a jury and before magistrates specially selected by the government; which constitutes a real break with the Hong Kong legal tradition inherited from the British system. Most of the defendants await trial in prison, as they are rarely granted bail.
Over 70 people, many of the city’s most prominent pro-democracy activists, have been charged under the law, most of them simply expressing now illegal political views. Dozens of associations and unions have scuttled themselves in recent months for fear of being worried by the authorities. The daily pro-democracy, Apple Daily, also closed in June after the imprisonment of its leaders and the freezing of its assets.