Amnesty International has said in a new report that the Hong Kong government is increasingly using national security as an excuse to clamp down on human rights.

In its annual review of the city’s human rights situation published on Tuesday, the NGO said that Hongkongers’ freedoms were in “rapid decline” as a result of the government’s actions in 2018. It cited incidents such as outlawing the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party, banning lawmaker Eddie Chu from a village representative election and refusing to renew the visa of journalist Victor Mallet.

“The Hong Kong government is being far more aggressive in restricting freedom of expression. The past year has seen a rapid deterioration that should alarm everyone who wants to see Hong Kong’s cherished freedom’s protected,” said Man-kei Tam, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong.

hong kong independence fcc protest
Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The NGO highlighted the advocacy of Hong Kong independence, which it said was nonviolent and should not be branded illegal. To do so would be a breach of international human rights standards such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), it said.

“Actions or speeches that do not intend and are unlikely to incite imminent violence should not be punished under the guise of protecting ‘national security’… The government must stop trying to silence and punish those who peacefully advocate for different policies for the city,” Tam added.

Amnesty International recommended that the government should uphold its international human rights obligations, and define national security “clearly and strictly” in the law so that only actions inciting imminent violence will be punished.

Umbrella Nine and LGBTQ rights

Besides freedom of expression, the report also focused on the legal prosecution of democracy activists, which it called “politically motivated.”

umbrella movement occupy trial

The NGO urged the Hong Kong government to drop the charges against the nine leaders of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, as they “stem solely from the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”

The nine activists stood trial late last year and a verdict is expected on April 9. Critics have said that the Department of Justice unfairly chose its charges against the defendants, including an “incitement to incite” charge.

Amnesty International also criticised the Public Order Ordinance, which it said was not in line with ICCPR standards in its present form. After the trial of activists involved in the 2016 Mong Kok unrest – which took place separately from the trial of the Umbrella Movement activists – a group of international parliamentarians also called for reforming the ordinance.

In its final section, the report urged the government to enact comprehensive legislation against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

lgbt gay lgbtq july 1 protest
Photo: Dan Garrett/HKFP.

The recommendation echoed that of the Equal Opportunities Commission, who reached the same conclusion following a 2016 report.

“The Hong Kong government has an obligation to promote equal rights in employment and education. Amnesty International urges the government to set an example for corporations and educational institutions by not censoring information related to diversity in sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, as well as granting civil servants in same-sex marriages or civil unions access to spousal benefit,” the report read.

In a response to a US report warning of interference from Beijing last week, the Hong Kong government said the One Country, Two Systems principle had been fully and successfully implemented, though advocacy of independence was a “blatant violation” of the Basic Law.

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Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.