Right to peaceful assembly and expression in Hong Kong in decline, damning Amnesty International report finds
Group claims authorities have taken a hard line against protesters and activists in the city over the past year
Hong Kong’s human rights situation is getting worse, non-profit group Amnesty International said on Thursday, claiming the city’s rights to peaceful assembly and expression have come under threat.
In an annual report reviewing the human rights situation in the city last year, the organisation said authorities had taken a hard line against protesters and activists.
“In the past year, the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression have both been dealt blows in Hong Kong,” the report said.
Last August, three student leaders of the Occupy movement, Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Alex Chow Yong-kang and Nathan Law Kwun-chung, were jailed for storming the government headquarters – an act that triggered the 79-day sit-ins of 2014. Prosecutors sought harsher penalties against them although they were originally given community service orders or suspended jail terms.
Wong and the other two successfully appealed against their jail terms this month.
In another case, prosecutors sought harsher punishments against 13 activists who were found guilty of illegal assembly. They too were jailed last August, and appeals are still pending.
Mabel Au Mei-po, Amnesty International Hong Kong director, said the government’s actions differed from before.
“The human rights situation in Hong Kong is deteriorating and getting less and less ideal … In previous years, protesters were not usually prosecuted, or even if they were convicted, they would have been given community service – not to the point where they would be jailed,” she said.
“The government is sending a clear message to the public that if they go out onto the streets, their behaviour could land them in jail. This might make them become afraid to come out to express their ideas and opinions.”
Au also questioned the appropriateness of using various public nuisance charges held against another nine people, including Occupy founders Benny Tai Yiu-ting, Dr Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, who were involved in what were “largely peaceful” protests in 2014. Au said the charges were “vague” and lacked clarity.
The report also pointed out that such implementation of the city’s Public Order Ordinance had led to criticism by the UN Human Rights Committee for failing to meet international human rights laws.
In another report that covered the human rights landscape among 159 countries worldwide, Amnesty said that last year world leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, had abandoned human rights.
“The feeble response to crimes against humanity and war crimes from Myanmar to Syria underscored the lack of leadership on human rights. Crimes against humanity and war crimes have gone unaddressed, sending a dangerous signal to abusers that anything goes,” said Roseann Rife, East Asia research director at Amnesty.
Rife said China saw the current vacuum of global leadership on human rights as an opportunity to show their strength and take charge.
“The concern we have about China stepping in is the model that they’re talking about focuses on economics and development and completely leaves human rights out of the equation,” Rife said.
“China’s authoritarian model includes silencing human rights defenders, who remained under attack in China in 2017.”
Nobel Peace Prize laureate and prominent civil rights activist Liu Xiaobo died in custody last July after authorities refused his request to seek medical treatment abroad. He was sentenced in 2009 for inciting subversion.