Hong Kong’s freedom of expression is being threatened, warns Amnesty International

A report released by the human rights organisation criticises the local government for going against international standards on human rights

Joshua Lee |

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Will our right to peaceful assembly slowly be eroded?

Our freedom of expression as Hongkongers, and our right to peaceful assembly in the city, are under threat, according to a report released on Thursday.

Global human rights organisation Amnesty International released its State of the World’s Human Rights Report this week. It is an annual review of human rights issues in 159 countries. The organisation also released a review of human rights in Hong Kong in 2017.

In the reports, Amnesty International criticised the Hong Kong government for going against international standards on human rights. This was based on its handling of peaceful protests, and its failure to protect freedom of expression.

Amnesty said that the arrest and prosecution of protesters involved in non-violent demonstrations in Hong Kong highlighted problems with locals laws. The organisation said many protesters, including the Occupy Central student leaders Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Alex Chow Yong-kang and Nathan Law Kwun-chung, were charged with vague public nuisance-related offences.

Mabel Au, the director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, questioned the government’s decision to take such a hard line against protesters. “These acts are having a chilling effect on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in the city,” she said.

Amnesty also cited the disqualification of six elected pro-democracy lawmakers from the Legislative Council an attack on those who advocate for democracy and/or self-determination for Hong Kong. They also said the row over banners calling for Hong Kong independence at several local universities raised concerns about the freedom to peacefully express diverse political views.

Eunice Yip Woon-man, 17, from Maryknoll Covent School, said although she had not taken part in any protests, she was concerned about the arrest of peaceful protesters. “I don’t think it’s fair,” she said, “People are trying to get attention so the government will take action. However, arresting the protesters [means they] don’t get a chance to express what’s on their minds.”

Eunice also thinks local students should continue to try to make their voices heard. “The government started neglecting voices opposite to them. I think this isn’t right. By speaking up, students let the government know we have a stance and our own opinions.”

Nicholas Ng, 15, from South Island School, thinks that the laws on public assembly should be made clearer. “Ambiguity means the laws regarding freedom to speech can be interpreted by the government [however they like] according to their agenda,” he said. “The erosion of our rights makes me feel threatened [...] I’m worried that this erosion of rights won’t just impact certain individuals, but everyone in the future.”

Edited by Ginny Wong