Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

OVERVIEW

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 2022, 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.

There have been numerous crackdown against pro-democracy activists, journalists, human rights defenders and others by the Hong Kong authorities. Many individuals were detained and/or sentenced to prison.

Amnesty International is insisting that Hong Kong authorities strictly adhere to their human rights obligations in implementing the NSL and that the international community hold them to account. The Hong Kong government should not sacrifice the freedoms that have distinguished the city from mainland China.

Amnesty International urges the Hong Kong police to adopt a less confrontational approach to demonstrations and facilitate the right to peaceful protest. Amnesty also calls for a thorough and independent investigation into unnecessary and excessive use of force by police at protests.

KEY ISSUES

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 2022, 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.

In October 2022, 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 2022, 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 Societies 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 2022, 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.

HONG KONG, CHINA – APRIL 07: A passenger wearing a mask walks through the arrivals hall at Hong Kong International Airport amid the coronavirus outbreak on April 7, 2020 in Hong Kong, China. (Photo by Zhang Wei/China News Service via Getty Images)

Press Release

Mask ban in Hong Kong for unauthorized protests is absurd and dangerous

April 9, 2020 – Coronavirus

HONG KONG, CHINA – 2020/02/12: Police officers confront protesters gathered in a public state building complex with the intention to stop a plan for a clinic to treat infected patients with coronavirus disease in Wong Tai Sing, Hong Kong. Protest demanding the Hong Kong government to take stronger action against the Coronavirus disease. The death toll from the covid-19 coronavirus epidemic passed 1, 100 and infected over 45, 000 people worldwide. (Photo by Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Press Release

Arrest of Pro-Democracy Activists in Hong Kong is Fresh Attempt to Crush Dissent

February 28, 2020 – Freedom of Assembly

HONG KONG – SEPTEMBER 29: Pro-democracy demonstrators run for cover as police officer shoot rubber bullets and tear gas at them as they protest in defiance of the upcoming China’s national day, in the Wan Chai area of Hong Kong, on Sept. 29, 2019. Despite Chief Executive Carrie Lams bowing to the demonstrators key demand withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill, pro-democracy demonstrators are now calling for Lam to immediately meet the rest of their demands. This includes an independent inquiry into polices use of force, amnesty for those arrested, a halt on the use of the word Riot when describing the rallies, and lastly, calls for universal suffrage for the people of Hong Kong. Protesters launch several protests in different areas of Hong Kong, causing cause to grip the city, leading up to Chinas National Day this week. (Photo by Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Press Release

Shooting of Protester in Hong Kong Must Be Investigated Amid Alarming Escalation of Police Use of Force

October 1, 2019 – firearms

Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) member Jimmy Sham (C) speaks during a press conference in Hong Kong on June 15, 2019 after Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam suspended a hugely divisive bill that would allow extraditions to China in a major climbdown after a week of unprecedented protests and political unrest. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Press Release

Vicious Attack Against Pro-Democracy Protest Organizer in Hong Kong

August 29, 2019 – Democracy

Hong Hong Legislative members and pro-democracy activists Ted Hui (centre L) and Kwok Ka-ki (centre R) speak to the media outside the Eastern District Court in Hong Kong on July 31, 2019, in support of protesters who were charged with rioting during recent clashes with police. – Dozens of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters appeared in court on July 31 after being charged with rioting, setting the stage for further unrest in a weeks-long crisis that has rocked the global financial hub. (Photo by Isaac LAWRENCE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP/Getty Images)

Press Release

Charges Against Protesters in Hong Kong Are A “Chilling Warning”

July 31, 2019 – Excessive Force