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Arrests under security law in Hong Kong are ‘serious’ concern: UN experts

UN human rights experts urge authorities to reconsider application of National Security Law

Peter Kenny   | 12.10.2021
Arrests under security law in Hong Kong are ‘serious’ concern: UN experts


A group of UN human rights experts on Tuesday expressed concern Tuesday over the arrest of Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and women’s rights defender Chow Hang-Tung on charges of "incitement to subversion" and being a foreign agent.

They urged authorities to refrain from the use of the National Security Law and to reconsider its application.

Chow, a human rights lawyer, was arrested on Sept. 8. She was a member of the Hong Kong Alliance, an advocacy group that organized 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 national security law sets out four areas of criminal offenses – "secession," "subversion," "terrorism," and "collusion with foreign or external forces to endanger national security" – with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The experts said they have communicated in a detailed written analysis their concerns to the government of China about the National Security Law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Concerns over ‘foreign agent’ qualification

The experts also raised their concerns over the "foreign agent" qualification under the National Security Law.

Under this law, reference is made to funding received from foreign governments and activities benefiting them.

The experts called on the government to ensure that associations 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.

The experts issued a further reminder that terrorism and subversion of national security are profoundly severe offenses and are strictly defined under international law.

"These labels should not be applied to offenses that do not meet the thresholds provided for in existing international standards," the experts said.

They said that 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 offenses, 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.

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