Hong Kong national security law seen as threat to NGOs


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Last year’s controversial national security law has cast a veil on non-governmental organizations in Hong Kong, including human rights organizations.

Amnesty International closed its 40-year-old office in the former British colony on October 31, a move that experts call “yet another blow to the human rights situation” in Hong Kong.

Human Rights Watch also left Hong Kong after being sanctioned by Beijing in retaliation for US laws in favor of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong in 2019, according to The New York Times.

Amnesty also announced the closure of another regional research, advocacy and campaigning operation on East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific at the end of this year.

Anjhula Mya SIngh Bais, chairman of the board of directors of Amnesty International, said in an October 25 statement that it was “indeed impossible” for them to work “freely and without fear of serious reprisals from the government” in under the National Security Act.

“The recent targeting of local human rights groups and trade unions signals an intensification of the authorities’ campaign to rid the city of all dissenting voices. It is increasingly difficult for us to continue to operate in such an unstable environment, ”she said.

The organization accused the authorities of using the national security law “arbitrarily” to restrict human rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

Since the law came into force in June last year, more than 100 people, including opposition politicians, pro-democracy activists and university students, have been arrested on charges of terrorism, advocating for secession , collusion with foreign forces and subversion.

Hong Kong Executive Director Carrie Lam, however, questioned the connection between the law and the departure of Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.

“Since the promulgation of the National Security Law, different associations and individuals have explained or justified their actions on the basis of the National Security Law, but there is no way to prove that this is exactly the reason for making such a decision, ”she said at the end of October. “Likewise, I could not comment on this explanation given by an organization about his departure from Hong Kong.”

Instead, she reiterated an earlier statement that the controversial law can “protect the rights and freedoms” of Hong Kong residents.

British MP Andrew Rosindell said on November 15 that Amnesty International was “a stronghold and a defender of human rights, even in the darkest days” in Hong Kong.

“Amnesty International… has played a pivotal role in ensuring that people in Hong Kong and Asia have a powerful voice, a voice that has always been willing to stand up to the Hong Kong government as human rights violations have escalated. multiplied, “he said. said in a statement.

In an October 28 article, Chinese state-owned media Global Times accused Amnesty International of playing an “infamous role in meddling in China’s internal affairs” and “fomenting a color revolution” in Hong Kong.

“There is no room for these foreign organizations to engage in subversion through so-called Western human rights and democratic values,” the Global Times added.

The human rights situation in the city has deteriorated, however, since it witnessed its biggest pro-democracy movement in 2019, according to Angeli Watt, senior analyst for China, Hong Kong and Taiwan at Freedom House.

“Freedom of association in Hong Kong increasingly resembles mainland China, as local NGO staff are subject to arbitrary arrests if they cross invisible red lines, activists go into exile, and international NGOs are subjected to arbitrary arrests. forced to work from outside. Watt told VOA.

Amnesty International said at least 35 groups have disbanded since the law was enacted, while Agence France-Presse estimated the tally at 50 or more.

“The series of raids, arrests and prosecutions of suspected opponents have highlighted how the vagueness of the law can be manipulated to build a case against whom the authorities choose,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty General Secretary International, in a press release.

Rosindell said more human rights organizations would close their doors.

“I pray that the list does not grow, but it surely will be,” he said in his written statement.

“The National Security Act not only undermined existing commitments to protect the freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong people… but it also potentially prevented any independent organization from reviewing the day-to-day policies of the government without serious repercussions, effectively barring criticism of the government. government. . ”

Watt echoed the sentiment.

“With the dissolution of dozens of local NGOs and unions, Hong Kong is no longer a safe city for human rights work, as the National Security Act is used to target anyone dissident from the governments of Hong Kong and China, ”Watt said.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of China’s Democratic Patriotic Movements, the organizer of the annual Hong Kong candlelight vigil on June 4 to commemorate pro-democracy activists murdered in the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, was dissolved in September after 32 years of defending human rights.

President Lee Cheuk-yan and Vice President Albert Ho have been behind bars on charges related to rallies during the 2019 anti-government protests, while another Vice President Chow Hang-tung has been arrested for organizing an unauthorized vigil.

Another prominent civil society group, Civil Human Rights Front, which staged several large-scale protests during anti-government protests in 2019, also decided in October to shut down after the 19-year-old organization was accused of having violated the national security law.

Watt called on countries and private companies to act to pressure China to restore human rights.

“Democratic countries should use targeted and coordinated sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for the erosion of human rights in Hong Kong. Private companies should use their influence with the authorities to push back their decisions, especially since they have relied for years on Hong Kong freedoms for profit, ”she said.

The United States has imposed sanctions on Lam, Chief Secretary John Lee, senior legal official Teresa Cheng and Security Secretary Chris Tang since August last year for what Washington has said is Beijing’s role. in the violation of Hong Kong freedoms.

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