Human Rights Report – New Law Signals the End of Hong Kong Autonomy

WASHINGTON – As the United States makes moves to end its special trade relationship with Hong Kong in reaction to the city’s decrease autonomy from mainland China, lawyers in Hong Kong are concerned that a new security law means new threats for civil society and the rule of law. In a report released today by Human Rights First and the University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law, the lawyers explain how they and other civil society leaders fear the new national security law will be the end of the city’s autonomy and mean fresh attacks on them and their work.

The report, “New Law, New Threat,” details a series of attacks on Hong Kong human rights lawyers over the last year, and how the new security law could be devastating to human rights in Hong Kong.

“Lawyers fear the new security law will mean that being a human rights lawyer in Hong Kong is about to become as dangerous as it is in mainland China,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley.

The report details online and offline attacks on Hong Kong’s human rights lawyers since the start of mass street demonstrations in June 2019. It is based primarily on interviews with Hong Kong human rights lawyers and legal academics conducted in 2020.

After a relative lull in large-scale protests since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the city is bracing for a potentially explosive month ahead. June 4 will mark Hong Kong’s annual commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, when hundreds, and possibly thousands, of student-led protestors, were killed by Chinese security forces. For the first time in 30 years, Hong Kong authorities have banned demonstrations to mark the event, though protests are expected to go on anyway.

Five days later, the city will observe the first anniversary of the outbreak of the most recent round of major protests, with additional demonstrations planned. Mass demonstrations against the new security law have already taken place, and are likely to increase as passage of the legislation proceeds in the coming weeks.

The report details consistent attacks on the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary, and the undermining of its rule of law. Over the last 12 months, under the sway of the Chinese government, Hong Kong authorities and their allies have smeared, “doxed” (revealed personal information), harassed, arrested, and physically assaulted lawyers as mass protests swept the city.

The new national security law is likely to ban a range of ill-defined acts including treason, secession, sedition, and subversion, and will authorize China’s security services to operate openly within Hong Kong.

One Hong Kong human rights lawyer interviewed for the report said, “Our fear is that the sort of vague national security laws used to target human rights lawyers in mainland China will now happen here,” and warned that just as human rights lawyers in China have been arrested for their work, those in Hong Kong could be next.


Published on June 2, 2020


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