CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance, calls on Hong Kong authorities to immediately end the repeated use of solitary confinement and free lawyer and activist Chow Hang-Tung. Chow has faced solitary confinement six times in the last four months and has been unjustly targeted for exercising her freedom of expression.
“Under international laws, the use of solitary confinement must be exceptional. It must be for the minimum possible time and be subjected to adequate safeguards. The repeated use of it against Chow Hang-tung is unjust.
“The practice exemplifies the relentless and brutal harassment of human rights defenders in Hong Kong, even in prison, and often used as a form of coercion. CIVICUS calls on the Hong Kong authorities to end this practise immediately,” said Rajavelu Karunanithi, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Officer for Asia
Chow Hang-Tung is a human rights lawyer and pro-democracy activist. She was one of the four vice-chairs of the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement of China (HKA). The HKA was the main organiser of the annual Tiananmen vigils marking the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989.
She served a 12-month prison sentence for her involvement in the June 2020 Tiananmen vigil but won her appeal against her 15-month jail sentence for inciting others to participate in 2021 vigil through her writing. Chow was also convicted and sentenced to 4.5 months in prison for "not complying with the requirement to provide information" under the draconian National Security Law. She is facing another trial for "inciting subversion of state power” under the same law.
The latest episode of her solitary confinement began on 11 October 2023. She had previously faced solitary confinement cells in June, twice in July, once in August and once in September, held seven to fourteen days at a time. Solitary confinement cells in Hong Kong's prisons measure just seven square meters and can get extremely hot.
In June 2023, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) said that Chow’s detention and deprivation of her rights were in retaliation to the peaceful exercise of fundamental freedoms and that she was specifically targeted by the authorities for expressing her political opinions.
The state of civic space in Hong Kong was downgraded to ‘closed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor in 2023 – the worst rating for a country or territory.
Ongoing challenges to civic space include the draconian National Security Law (NSL) with vaguely defined provisions that easily become catch-all offences to prosecute activists and critics. Further, activists have also been targeted with sedition charges, and press freedom is under severe attack. The freedom of association has also been undermined with dozens of civil society organisations and movements being forced to disband or relocate, and ceasing to operate.
“This continuous retaliation against activists like Chow Hang Tung highlights a wider pattern of repression in Hong Kong in recent years, especially using the National Security Law, which goes against international human rights law and standards.
“The authorities must drop all criminal proceedings against Chow Hang Tung and all activists. At the same time, the international community must do more to hold the Hong Kong accountable for its attacks on fundamental freedoms,” added Karunanithi.