By UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor

The trial of 15 pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong on Monday shouldn’t be happening. This week I joined two other United Nations Special Rapporteurs – Clement Nyaletsossi Voule and David Kaye – in urging the authorities to immediately drop the charges against the group.

The 15 were arrested last month and are charged with various counts of participating in, or assisting in the organisation of, “unauthorised” assemblies. Some have also been charged with announcing “unauthorised” marches.

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Leung Yiu-chung, Avery Ng, Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho, Martin Lee, Figo Chan, Jimmy Lai, Sin Chung-kai, Cyd Ho, Au Nok-hin, Margaret Ng, Yeung Sum, Raphael Wong, Leung Kwok-hung, Richard Tsoi.

But nobody should be subjected to administrative or criminal sanctions for taking part in a peaceful protest, even if the regime governing protests requires an authorisation.

I started this month as the new UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders. Clement Nyaletsossi Voule’s mandate covers the right to peaceful expression and association, and David Kaye’s the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the three of us see why this case is an important test of these rights and an important test for the Hong Kong

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Margaret Ng. Photo: Dan Garrett/HKFP.

The charges against them were brought under the Public Order Ordinance, which establishes an authorisation process for assemblies, contrary to international human rights standards, and we fear the chilling effect these arrests aim to have on peaceful protests in Hong Kong.

The authorities are obligated not to criminalise peaceful protesters, or prosecute organisers for the acts of violence committed by individual participants. Only individual acts of violence may be subject to prosecution.

In fact, the Hong Kong authorities should review the Public Order Ordinance in line with international human rights standards.

We have noted a pattern of criminalisation of peaceful protesters over the past months, including when peaceful protests took place in compliance with existing public health regulations.

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A ticket of fixed penalty issued by police on Fau Tsoi Street in Yuen Long on April 21. Photo: Joshua Kwan/United Social Press.

I will be following up on the work of my predecessor, Michel Forst, as I serve my three-year term, and am also aware of other recent issues in Hong Kong raised by UN Special Rapporteurs.

In an official communication made public on April 21, several senior UN independent experts said they had received information detailing “the harassment, intimidation, and arrest of healthcare workers including first-aiders,” and that “large numbers of healthcare workers have been arrested and hand-cuffed with zip-cords either in the vicinity of violent confrontations or in the course of performing their legitimate healthcare duties.”

The experts said that they had received information saying that when some “medical professionals were able to provide identification and prove their qualifications, they had still reportedly been arrested by the police for ‘taking part in a riot,’ detained for 24 hours and then released on police bail pending possible charges.”

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Photo: May James.

At that time, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention joined three Special Rapporteurs with mandates respectively on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and on the right to privacy in signed the joint communication.

While the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic has all sorts of implications for human rights and human rights defenders, we won’t be distracted by what else is happening, or lose our focus on injustices like putting people on trial who shouldn’t be.

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Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The criminal prosecution of the 15 on trial in Hong Kong on Monday should immediately be dropped, and the rights of peaceful protest properly respected.

Mary Lawlor is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders.

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