Geneva, October 12, 2021.- UN human rights experts* expressed deep concern about the arrest of Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and woman human rights defender Chow Hang-Tung on charges of “incitement to subversion” and being a foreign agent, and urged authorities to refrain from the use of the National Security Law and reconsider its application.
Ms. Chow, a human rights lawyer, was arrested on 8 September 2021. She was a member of the Hong Kong Alliance, an advocacy group which organised the annual candlelight vigil marking the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square. Several other activists have been similarly arrested and charged under the National Security Law.
“Terrorism and sedition charges are being improperly used to stifle the exercise of fundamental rights, which are protected under international law, including freedom of expression and opinion, freedom of peaceful assembly and the right to participate in public affairs,” the experts said.
The experts have communicated in detailed written analysis their concerns to the Government of the People’s Republic of China about the National Security Law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region highlighting the law’s fundamental incompatibility with international law and with China’s human rights obligations.
The experts also raised their concerns over the qualification of “foreign agent” under the National Security Law, in which reference is made to funding received from foreign governments and activities benefitting them. The experts called on the Government to ensure that associations can seek, receive and use funding from foreign or international sources, without undue impediments.
“Such regulatory measures, by imposing undue restrictions on funding and punishing recipients of foreign funding, infringe on the right to freedom of association as well as other human rights,” the experts said.
They further reminded the Government that terrorism and subversion of national security are profoundly serious offences and are strictly defined under international law. “These labels should not be applied to offences that do not meet the thresholds provided for in existing international standards,” the experts said. “Doing so undermines the integrity of these legal standards weakening binding international law norms across both human rights and international peace and security.
“The cheapening of the seriousness of terrorist acts and sedition offences, when Governments improperly use them to justify quelling domestic dissent, limiting protests and curbing criticism by civil society and human rights defenders, is deeply troubling,” the experts added.
The application of the National Security Law also raises fair trial concerns, the experts said, highlighting that a judge twice denied Ms. Chow bail on the grounds she would continue to threaten national security if released. The judge also refused to lift reporting restrictions, stating that it was not in the interest of justice if the media reported on the hearing.
The experts urged the Government to urgently repeal and independently review the National Security Law to ensure it is both human rights and international law compliant.
“There needs to be a reinvigoration of an independent judiciary in Hong Kong, a pause in applying this law, and a fundamental reconsideration of its use,” they said.