The Hong Kong authorities continued their crackdown against pro-democracy activists, journalists, human rights defenders and others. The 2020 National Security Law (NSL) and other repressive laws were widely used to target people exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. The UN Human Rights Committee urged the Hong Kong government to repeal the NSL and sedition provisions of the Crime Ordinance, and in the meantime to refrain from applying them.
In July, John Lee, former Hong Kong security chief who oversaw the police crackdown on the 2019 protests and the implementation of the NSL, took over as Chief Executive of Hong Kong, having been selected by the central government in Beijing as the sole candidate in the May elections.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND ASSEMBLY
At least 11 people were sentenced to terms of imprisonment during the year under colonial-era sedition laws for exercising their right to peaceful expression.
In September, five speech therapists were sentenced to 19 months’ imprisonment each after being found guilty of sedition for publishing children’s books depicting the government’s crackdown on 2019 pro- democracy protests and other issues.10
In October, radio show host and public affairs commentator Edmund Wan (known as Giggs) was sentenced to 32 months in prison for “sedition” and “money laundering” for criticizing the government and raising funds for school fees for young Hong Kong activists who had fled to Taiwan after the 2019 protests. Giggs, who was detained for 19 months prior to his conviction, was released on 18 November but was required to hand over fundraising proceeds to the government. Political activists, journalists, human rights defenders and others charged under the NSL were held for prolonged pretrial detention. As of 31 October, at least 230 people had been arrested under the NSL since its enactment in 2020.
The space for peaceful protest remained highly restricted and those who participated in demonstrations or encouraged others to do so risked prosecution. In January, Chow Hang-tung was convicted of “inciting others to take part in an unauthorized assembly” and sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment after publishing a social media post in 2021 encouraging people to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. In December, Chow Hang-tung won her appeal against that conviction, but remained in prison awaiting trial on similar charges under the NSL for which she faced up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
Authorities continued to criminalize or otherwise prevent legitimate civil society activities. Repressive legislation, including the NSL and Societies Ordinance, which gave excessive powers to the police to refuse, cancel the registration of or prohibit a society, were used with chilling effects on civil society organizations. More than 100 civil society organizations had been forced to disband or relocate since the enactment of the NSL in July 2020.
Restrictions were imposed on smaller, more informal groups. In June, police reportedly delivered letters to at least five representatives of small civil society groups, including informal Facebook groups and religious networks, warning them to register or risk violating the Socie ties Ordinance. Five former trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Support Fund, set up to assist participants in the 2019 protests with legal fees and other costs but which closed in 2021, were arrested in May, as well as the former secretary in November, for “colluding with foreign forces” under the NSL. They faced up to 10 years’ imprisonment. In December, all six were found guilty of failing to register the fund under the Societies Ordinance and fined between HKD 2,500 and 4,000 each (approximately USD 321-513).
Attacks on groups operating outside Hong Kong also expanded. In March, the National Security Police sent a letter to the Chief Executive of a UK-based organization, Hong Kong Watch, accusing the group of “jeopardizing national security” by “lobbying foreign countries to impose sanctions” and engaging in “other hostile activities”. The group was accused of violating Article 29 of the NSL which criminalizes “collusion with foreign forces” and asserts extraterritorial jurisdiction. Police also blocked Hong Kong Watch’s website in Hong Kong.
Civil society organizations exercised self- censorship in order to be able to operate and raise funds. Local payment and crowdfunding platforms suspended the fundraising accounts of two groups. One of the platforms told a group that it had taken this action because of the “excessive risks involved” in hosting the account. In a separate case, three activists who had sued the Hong Kong police for ill-treatment during a land rights protest in 2014 reported that their account on an international crowdfunding platform had been removed because it was considered too high risk for the company.
The Hong Kong government made no progress towards drafting a gender- recognition law despite having established an inter-departmental working group on gender recognition in 2014 and carrying out a consultation in 2017.The Hong Kong government made no progress towards drafting a gender- recognition law despite having established an inter-departmental working group on gender recognition in 2014 and carrying out a consultation in 2017.