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Hong Kong: Beijing Dismantles a Free Society

One Year Under National Security Law Devastates Human Rights

The slogan in Chinese on the flag, “Liberate Hong Kong, the Revolution of Our Times,” was a common chant during the 2019 protests. But since the imposition of the National Security Law, Hong Kong authorities have prohibited both the chant and pro-democracy protests have been prohibited in Hong Kong. The group that has long organized peaceful marches, Civil Human Rights Front, is also no longer functioning and its convenor has been in custody since. © 2019 Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

(New York) – The Chinese government has systematically dismantled human rights in Hong Kong following the imposition of the draconian National Security Law one year ago, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The authorities’ crackdown on Apple Daily, one of Hong Kong’s most popular newspapers, resulting in its closure on June 23, 2021, exemplifies the speed and intensity with which rights are being erased in the city. 

Dismantling a Free Society: Hong Kong One Year after the National Security Law highlights the Chinese government’s key steps to reshape multiple sectors and institutions in Hong Kong to bring them under Beijing’s control. Chinese authorities are decapitating the pro-democracy movement by arresting prominent leaders, pressing Hong Kong people – including schoolchildren – to publicly express loyalty to the Chinese government and the Communist Party, and increasingly turning the police and judiciary into tools of Chinese state control rather than independent and impartial enforcers of the rule of law.

“Hong Kong people are watching the Chinese government take rapid-fire steps to destroy their democratic society,” said Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch. “They used to talk about politics, run for office, and criticize the government, but that’s not just off-limits now, it’s punishable by up to life in prison.”

Beijing is systematically erasing the civil and political rights people long enjoyed, including freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, access to information, and academic freedom. Citizens no longer have the right to participate in free and fair elections and to run for office. The authorities are shutting down the free media, cutting off funding for the pro-democracy movement, and depriving those accused of political crimes of their fair trial rights. Impunity for police abuse is expanding.

Beijing’s efforts in Hong Kong are coordinated and comprehensive and appear aimed to transform a mostly free city into one that follows the Chinese Communist Party line. Pro-Beijing politicians and individuals, along with the state-owned news media Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po, shame and intimidate Hong Kong people, making them fearful to exercise their rights and pro-democracy activities.

The escalating government oppression has not stopped Hong Kong people from demonstrating support for human rights. June 4, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, would normally be marked by a mass candlelight vigil in Victoria Park. Since the imposition of the National Security Law, Hong Kong police have banned the vigil, preemptively arrested the vigil organizer, and closed off the park, warning people that they would be arrested if they entered. Yet hundreds commemorated the anniversary outside the park, raising their cellphone lights to mimic the traditional candles, while many more marked the occasion in churches and other locations.

“Beijing should not underestimate the tenacity and creativity of Hong Kong people in their struggle for democracy and human rights,” Wang said. “Other governments should support these efforts by imposing sanctions on abusive Hong Kong officials, and by protecting Hong Kong people’s freedoms abroad.”

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