Amnesty International has a warning for Hong Kong. It says the police handling of last December's protests against the World Trade Organisation was symptomatic of an attitude that's become all too pervasive among governments around the world. In the name of national security, public order and 'the war on terror', governments big and small - from the US to Hong Kong - are brushing aside people's rights and freedoms, Amnesty says. But it believes a turning point is in sight. 'Over the past year, some of the world's most powerful governments have received an uncomfortable wake-up call about the dangers of undervaluing the human rights dimension of their actions at home and abroad. Their doublespeak and deception have been exposed by the media, challenged by activists and rejected by the courts,' says Irene Khan, secretary-general of Amnesty International. 'There were some clear signs that a turning point may be in sight after five years of backlash against human rights in the name of counter-terrorism. People are no longer willing to buy the fallacious argument that reducing our liberty will increase our security.' As the international human rights body released its annual report on the state of human rights around the world, it called on governments to display the same commitment to rights and freedoms as they do to 'protecting national security'. 'More and more governments are being called to account - before legislatures, in courts and other public forums,' Ms Khan says. 'More and more, there is a realisation that flouting human rights and the rule of law, far from winning the 'war on terror', only creates resentment and isolates those communities targeted, plays into the hands of extremists, and undermines our collective security. 'From peasant farmers protesting against land grabbing in China to women asserting their rights on the 10th anniversary of the UN World Conference on Women, the events of 2005 showed the human rights idea is more powerful and stronger than ever.' Billy Hung Fan-keung, campaign manager of Amnesty International Hong Kong, says Hong Kong's leaders would be well advised not to follow the examples of state leaders such as US President George W. Bush. 'We're seeing more and more that security concerns are being put on the policy agenda of Hong Kong,' Mr Hung says. 'Well before the WTO meeting, police tried to produce an image, propaganda, that serious aggression would happen, as a strategy to justify harsh actions in the name of security. 'I hope the Hong Kong government will not learn these things from the Bush administration - whose approval ratings are suffering badly right now ... We also treasure security and safety, but at least take a balanced approach by recognising and promoting the importance of fundamental rights like the right to protest.' Police detained more than 1,000 protesters in December, the night before the sixth ministerial conference was due to end. After some protesters had spent up to 48 hours in detention, only 14 were formally charged. Charges against 12 were eventually dropped and the remaining two were acquitted. Activist Suzanne Wu, one of the detainees, says the arrests were 'brainless' and indiscriminate. 'I just walked around all day in Wan Chai and did nothing to anybody,' she says. 'The whole arrest process was more like revenge by the police against protesters, just to make them suffer for as long as possible. But if you don't have the manpower and resources to hold so many people, it's brainless to arrest them.' Fellow detainee, Polytechnic University student Man Ho says many detainees were very cold, with temperatures having dropped that weekend, and many were wet because they had been hit with water cannons during the protest. Allegations of mistreatment and humiliations abound. Mr Hung calls for an independent panel to investigate police handling of the WTO arrests and detentions and to report the findings to the public. 'We are still not sure what happened because there has been no transparent, independent investigation,' he says. 'The police apparently had their own investigation, but we have no idea.' Amnesty worries about the use of the controversial Public Order Ordinance to charge the WTO protesters, Mr Hung says, and urges the government to adopt the recommendations made by the UN Human Rights Committee - to review the ordinance. Security concerns were cited to deny members of the Falun Gong their rights - eight practitioners had all their convictions for obstructing and assaulting police quashed by the Court of Final Appeal. Safety and security were also cited in the government's defence of its covert surveillance regime, which was ruled to have no legal basis by the courts. Across the border, the 'war on terror' continues to be used 'as a pretext' for violations, including a 'crackdown on the largely Muslim Uygur community in the northwest,' according to Amnesty's East Asia team researcher Mark Allison, who says there were statements aplenty from mainland authorities that reforms were necessary to protect human rights, but these were only piecemeal measures. Basic legal and institutional weaknesses remain. 'The kind of abuses Amnesty documented, including imprisonment of prisoners of conscience, torture, restrictions on religious freedom, remain the same as perhaps 10 or 15 years ago,' he says. 'In some respects, the human rights situation deteriorated.' Citing violent suppression of countryside protests, and abuses such as arbitrary arrest, beatings and sometimes imprisonment of human rights activists, Mr Allison says there appears to be a growing pattern of abuses. 'There was also a renewed crackdown on the media, including further regulations to tighten controls on the internet.' China did restate its claim that it will ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and agreed to host a UN Special Rapporteur on torture last year. But many of the rapporteur's recommendations were rejected. Amnesty expresses optimism on widespread public concern aroused by reports in the mainland press about a series of miscarriages of justice in death penalty cases. '[This has] hastened moves towards reforming the death penalty system. Supreme Court review of all death penalty cases was restored, although in practice the review tribunals have yet to go into full operation,' Mr Allison says. 'We hope this will at least reduce the huge numbers of people facing execution and make trials fairer. Over the coming year, we want to see these tribunals up and running, but we also want to see China increase transparency by publishing full statistics on the death penalty and to reduce the scope of the death penalty by eliminating it for all non-violent crimes.' Amnesty calls on the mainland not only to improve its own human rights record, but to take a leadership role in the region in this field. 'As a growing political and economic power, we believe China has a crucial role to play in securing human rights elsewhere, not least because China has just been elected as a member of the new UN Human Rights Council,' Mr Allison says. 'China's role on human rights in the region and internationally was highly problematic. For example, unrestricted arms exports from China helped to fuel the conflict in Darfur in Sudan and China opposed the strengthening of the UN arms embargo on Sudan.' He calls on Beijing to support and ratify a new international arms trade treaty aimed at curbing exports of arms used to commit rights violations in other countries, as well as to play 'a more positive role' in alleviating the 'chronic' human rights ills of Myanmar and North Korea. 'China made a human rights pledge as a candidate to [the Human Rights Council] election and we will be monitoring closely to see whether its promises are fulfilled.'