Hongkong: Civic space deteriorates as another civil society group plans closure

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, expresses grave concern over increasing restrictions of civic space in Hong Kong exacerbated by the implementation of the National Security Law (NSL). These restrictions have led to the closure of human rights organisations and independent unions and highlight the proliferation of a climate of fear for activists and those who are critical of the authorities. 

In the most recent case, prominent human rights watchdog Amnesty International announced the closure of its local and regional office in Hong Kong. In a statement, the organisation said that the NSL “has made it effectively impossible for human rights organizations in Hong Kong to work freely and without fear of serious reprisals from the government”. It added that “the recent targeting of local human rights organisations  and trade unions  signals an intensification of the authorities’ campaign to rid the city of all dissenting voices.”

Between August and October 2021, several other organisations announced their disbandment in the wake of the sweeping NSL. These include the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), the pro-democracy group that organized some of Hong Kong's biggest protests in 2019. Other groups include the Hong Kong Alliance, responsible for organising three decades of vigils commemorating the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Hong Kong Professional Teacher’s Union, the city’s largest teachers’ union and the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), the largest independent trade union.

All the groups cited the drastic change in the political situation in Hong Kong and the potential risks of criminalisation under the NSL as the main driving force behind their decision.

“The recent closure of offices announced by Amnesty International and the disbandment of other organisations out of a fear of potential reprisals send a chilling message to people in Hong Kong and across the region. It confirmed concerns raised by many when the law came about that it was not so much about security but rather designed as a tool to crackdown on civic freedoms in Hong Kong,” said Cornelius Hanung, Asia Advocacy and Campaigns Officer, CIVICUS.

CIVICUS has previously documented the detrimental impact of the NSL imposed by Beijing, which criminalises four types of activities, namely secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with “foreign forces.” According to the law, these  carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. Following the passage of the law in June 2020, several pro-democracy organisations including Demosisto, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy political groups, ceased their operations.  Some civil society staff left their jobs while others have exercised greater caution in their activities. More than a year on, it has been arbitrarily used to criminalise more than a hundred activists and opposition politicians, restrict press freedom and silence protests.

“We stand in solidary with the people of Hong Kong and our civil society colleagues, and reiterate our calls for the government to repeal the National Security Law which is clearly in contravention of international human rights law. We further urge the international community not to remain silent in the face of increasing  restrictions on civil society but to use all avenues to speak up on these abuses” said Cornelius Hanung.

In September 2020, CIVICUS supported the call by 50 United Nations experts calling for decisive measures to protect fundamental freedoms in China, including Hong Kong, and for an international mechanism to address the Chinese government’s human rights violations. We call on delegations to the Human Rights Council to take collective, coordinated action at the next Council session to make clear that systemic human rights violations in China, including those taking place in Hong Kong, will not go unnoticed and unchecked. 

 

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