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Protestors gather near the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Wednesday, June 12, 2019. © 2019 AP Photo/Kin Cheung

(New York) – The Hong Kong police should not use excessive force against protesters who are blocking roads in Hong Kong, Human Rights Watch said today. On June 12, 2019, tens of thousands of protesters gathered around Hong Kong’s legislature, the Legislative Council (LegCo), and the roads surrounding it to press the government to drop proposed amendments to two laws that would allow extradition to mainland China.

“Hong Kong authorities shouldn’t use unlawful force to suppress peaceful protests,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should recognize Hong Kong’s legal obligations to allow people to make their views known through peaceful protests.”

In February, the Hong Kong Security Bureau proposed changes to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance, which would expand the case-by-case extradition arrangement to mainland China. The changes would also remove the LegCo’s role in reviewing these individual executive requests, a crucial layer of governmental and public oversight. The amended laws would allow the transfer of people accused of crimes to mainland China, as well as other countries, where they would be at risk of torture or other ill-treatment, and unfair trials.

In response to concerns voiced by the business community, Hong Kong authorities slightly modified the proposed law by removing some economic crimes from the list of those eligible for extradition, and requiring that only those who face a minimum sentence of seven years in prison if convicted would be transferred. Yet the core problems with the law remain intact, Human Rights Watch said.

On June 9, over one million people demonstrated peacefully against the extradition amendments, according to the organizers, Civil Human Rights Front, which had obtained a permit to protest. Toward the end of the protest, Hong Kong authorities issued a statement confirming their intent to go ahead with the second reading of the amendments at the LegCo on June 12.

A few hours later, in the early hours of June 10, police cleared the remaining protesters from the streets. Police used pepper spray and batons on the protesters; eight officers were injured. Police later said the protesters had “damaged law and order” and that they had arrested 19 people.

Since the morning of June 12, tens of thousands of peaceful protesters have occupied the area surrounding the LegCo, including major roads, in the Admiralty section of the city. In the late afternoon, Hong Kong police moved to disperse the protesters, firing teargas, beanbag rounds, and rubber bullets. There are reports of protesters throwing water bottles, hard hats, and in one area, bricks. At least 72 protesters had been injured, according to Hong Kong Hospital Authority. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam condemned the protests, calling it “a riot.”

Human Rights Watch is concerned about the police using unnecessary or excessive force against the protesters. While some protester action may warrant police use of force, international human rights standards limit the use of force to situations in which it is strictly necessary. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that law enforcement officials may only use force if other means remain ineffective or have no promise of achieving the intended result. When using force, law enforcement officials should exercise restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense and to the legitimate objective to be achieved.

On June 6, 68 Hong Kong and international nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, in a joint letter, called on Hong Kong authorities to scrap the proposed extradition amendments.

“Hong Kong authorities have badly miscalculated the magnitude of public frustration over erosions to human rights and civil liberties in the territory,” Richardson said. “But rather than doubling down through repressive responses, they should scrap the extradition proposal and answering growing demands to defend human rights and the rule of law in the territory.”

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