UN Experts Say Hong Kong National Security Law Poses ‘Serious Risk’ to Freedom

U.N. rights experts sent an open letter to China asking them to review the controversial new law.
Heather Chen
Bangkok, TH
September 4, 2020, 7:52am
hong kong protest
In this file photo police arrest a man (C) and lead him to a nearby bus during a protest against China's planned national security law in Hong Kong on June 28, 2020. Photo: AFP / ISAAC LAWRENCE

In a rare, open message to the Chinese government, United Nations human rights experts voiced their concerns over Hong Kong’s controversial national security law, saying that it may breach international legal obligations and “poses a serious risk” to the city’s “fundamental freedoms.”

The national security law, which was unilaterally imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing in July, criminalizes acts including secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces. Its language is purposefully broad and threatens a maximum penalty of life in prison.

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The 14-page letter was made public on Friday, September 4, after it was sent to China’s ruling Communist Party regime by Fionnuala Ni Aolain, a Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, along with six other U.N. experts.

The U.N. group voiced their concerns about the sweeping law being pushed onto Hong Kong and said its wording “lacks precision.”

“We are concerned that the law lacks precision in key respects, infringes on certain fundamental rights and may not meet the required thresholds of necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination under international law,” the letter reads.

The experts added that the law “should not be used to restrict or limit protected fundamental freedoms, including the rights to opinion, expression, and of peaceful assembly.”

The letter asked China to clarify certain articles of the legislation and urged Beijing to explain plans to enforce “extra-territorial jurisdiction” of the law.

They also called on China to appoint a “fully independent reviewer” to examine the national security law’s compliance with international law.

The national security law had already drawn intense criticism from the U.N. as well as global human rights organizations, who have accused China of using the law to overreach into its autonomous territory and stifle dissent.

Beijing previously defended the law, saying that it was necessary to tackle unrest in the city rocked by protest. 

But public resentment has skyrocketed in Hong Kong in recent months after the law came into full effect. Dozens of prominent pro-democracy figures, like China critic and media tycoon Jimmy Lai and student activist Agnes Chow being arrested. Others, like student activist Nathan Law, have already fled the territory. 

Prominent pro-democracy advocate Joshua Wong previously told VICE News about his fears of impending arrest. Reports of police brutality and violent crackdowns against protesters have increased under the new law. Earlier this week, a pregnant woman was pulled to the ground in a scuffle between riot officers and protesters.

Beijing officials have not yet responded to the U.N. letter.