Hong Kong

 

  • ‘Democracy is much more than street protest and institutional politics, and Hong Kong people are now resisting in all possible and impossible ways’

    Ahead of the publication of the 2018 State of Civil Society Reporton the theme of ‘reimagining democracy’, we areinterviewing civil society activists and leadersabout their work to promote democratic governance, and the challenges they encounter in doing so.CIVICUS speaks with student leader Yiu Wa Chung about his involvement in the pro-democracy movement and the prospects for democracy in Hong Kong.

    1. Three years after the 2014 protests, what has happened to the pro-democracy movement?

    Two separate processes have unfolded over the past few years: street protests and an institutional process that took place around the Legislative Council elections. What we demanded through street demonstrations in 2014 was true universal suffrage. We wanted China to change its electoral guidelines and the pro-China Chief Executive to resign.

    Since Britain returned it to China in 1997, Hong Kong has been governed under the “one country, two systems” principle, which means the Hong Kong government has jurisdiction over internal affairs and trade relations, while the government of China is in charge of Hong Kong’s defence and foreign policy. We therefore enjoy limited self-determination and political rights, although we do have an independent judiciary and a free press.

    Hong Kong has the status of a Special Administrative Region, and our government is led by a Chief Executive who is chosen by a “nominating committee” of 1,200 people, most of them from pro-China elites. The Legislative Council is the legislative branch of government.

    The thing is, when Hong Kong was returned to China, we were promised that we would be able to elect our Chief Executive by universal suffrage by 2017; however, in 2014 it became clear that free elections were not going to happen, as a reform framework was passed in August that established that only a few committee-vetted (pro-China) candidates would be allowed to compete in these elections. And that was the trigger for the massive 2014 protests known as the Umbrella Movement, one of the biggest – if not the biggest – in Hong Kong’s history.

    The main reason that mobilisation decreased in the years after 2014 is that people were discouraged by the lack of results. After such a big movement and 79 days of occupation that paralysed major roads in the financial centre, we got no reply from the government, and there was no institutional change. People devoted a lot of energy, time and effort and they sacrificed so much. Almost every single young protestor who appeared on camera or was interviewed by the media in 2014 is being prosecuted or is in jail. And it was all for nothing. In other words, the costs of protest increased and the expected gains decreased, so the momentum passed and street protest declined.

    However, in the years since 2014 there were two elections, for the local District Councils in 2015 and for the Legislative Council in 2016. Because of the atmosphere and because voting in elections has much lower cost than going out to the streets, the results of those two elections were quite good for the pro-democracy camp.

    But it is important to note that half the legislative seats are filled through small circle elections within functional interests, which works almost like an appointment, so regardless of how well we fare in the elections we still face considerable obstacles when looking at the overall composition of the Legislative Council. Moreover, what happened in 2016 is that after the elections that the pro-democracy camp won, the government found an excuse to disqualify six of the elected legislative councillors. For instance, they argued that one of the councillors had not taken his oath properly because he had changed the tone of his words, so his promise to obey the laws of the People’s Republic of China sounded more as a question than a statement. He hadn’t changed a single word, but according to the government he pronounced them in a questioning rather than a neutral tone. Another elected councillor took the oath properly, in a neutral tone and all, but after he had been sworn in, he chanted a pro-democracy slogan, “Rights to the people.” Another one paused excessively in between words and mispronounced the word “China,” and so on.

    The judicial process following a demand for disqualification takes about a year, during which time these elected councillors were banned from taking part in the Council’s deliberations. And when they were eventually disqualified, they were required to pay back the salaries they had received. This is something that not just anybody can afford. In other words, the government is using every means at their disposal to bend people’s opinion, including by forcing us to go bankrupt. The message that Beijing is sending to people in Hong Kong is that resisting is pointless.

    In sum, both in the streets and at the institutional level, the pro-democracy movement is currently in decline.

    1. Do you think a “culture of protest” emerged out of the Umbrella Movement, and that the public is now more prone to mobilising than in the past?

    It did look like it around 2015, but the enthusiasm has long since dissipated. By 2015 the government was not as authoritarian as it is today, and community organising flourished. There were lots of new organisations that put their efforts into all kinds of issues, including labour rights, universal suffrage and institutional change. But by 2016, with the government on the offensive, trying to disqualify elected lawmakers, passing restrictive bills and jailing people, protest and mobilisation had declined.

    I believe that the current authoritarian trend is no accident; it fits the long-term plans of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Since the handover, the CCP has devoted a lot of human and financial resources to setting up satellite organisations in Hong Kong. They have consistently worked to infiltrate each and every sector and change the democratic culture, step by step. Hong Kong people resented this; resentment built up and resulted in the 2014 protests. The Umbrella Movement took the CCP and the Hong Kong government by surprise; nobody expected so many people to take to the streets. But they chose to ignore it and let it wear out by providing no response whatsoever to its demands. The occupation lasted 79 days, during which the CCP clearly sized the movement up. They got to know its weaknesses and limits perfectly well. They were aware that people were getting tired. They saw us as a wave coming from the ocean, gathering strength and gradually wearing out, and they waited it out. As the movement weakened, the CCP asserted its power. Increasingly authoritarian methods are hard to resist once you have used up all our energy. All that has been done has yielded no results, so people have retreated further and increasingly refrain from voicing their opinion.

    It should be noted that unlike in China, control in Hong Kong can be subtle. Different methods are being used, the prosecution and jailing of protestors being just the most blunt of them. But the government has also been deliberately increasing the cost of living in Hong Kong, and most notably rent, which is already the highest in the world. The effects of this are appalling: for many people, it means they have to work longer hours, with little time or energy left for leisure or politics, and that they have no leftover money for anything else, and organising obviously costs money. Additionally, the Hong Kong economy is very dependent on China, and if you have business with China you will lose everything for not playing by their rules, which include political alignment.

    Control is also cultural and educational. There is an increasing control of the school curriculum, and changes are being introduced in the content of schoolbooks, so young children learn from an early stage that they have to love and obey China and its leaders. Children are being told to love the CCP, the “most democratic” party there is. There is also an ongoing attack on our language, as they are trying to impose Mandarin instead of Cantonese in schools. In short, combined control tactics are being applied from all sides – they are truly a tight network of control - so there is no room to even think of resisting.

    The democratic camp has kept trying to mobilise support, but people are tired and less ready to respond. Public reactions against authoritarianism and rights violations have become exceptions rather than the rule in the present context.

    1. A number of pro-democracy activists were jailed in 2017. What was the background to this, and what was the civil society response?

    In August 2017, three student leaders of the pro-democracy movement were sentenced to between six and eight months in jail. They had originally been sentenced to community service for storming a fenced-off section of the government headquarters. They were charged with unlawful assembly, and inciting people to take part in illegal rallies. However, the local government appealed against the case arguing that community service was too light a punishment, and they were eventually sentenced to jail. Additionally, they were barred from running for public office for five years, which meant that one of them, who was considering running for a legislative position, would no longer be able to do so.

    In reaction to the sentencing tens of thousands of people took to the streets and marched to the Court of Final Appeal. This was the biggest demonstration since 2014. Sadly, it was only an isolated reaction, which probably was due to the fact that these students were some of the most visible leaders of the Umbrella Movement and their cases drew lots of attention.

    In contrast, in December 2017 the government approved changes in the Legislative Council’s Rules of Procedure that would break the balance between pro-democracy and pro-China camps, and there was no visible reaction. The democratic camp called for a protest, but only a couple of hundred people showed up and were easily removed. These procedure changes were accomplished because, with six of its democratically elected legislators disqualified, the pro-democracy camp did not have enough votes to block them. Over several weeks, numerous pro-democracy legislators were kicked out of the chamber for disrupting the debate with filibustering tactics, and the amendments eventually passed. As a result, the president will now have the power to reconvene meetings, to ban and combine amendments, and to stop legislators from raising adjournment motions.

    1. Looking ahead, what are the main challenges to the sustainability of the pro-democracy movement, and how are they being addressed?

    All the major tools that we had are gone. For protesting in the streets you get arrested and thrown into jail, and if you try the institutional path, you get disqualified or stripped of decision-making power. The cost of involvement in both arenas is going up.

    Democracy is much more than street protest and institutional politics, and it is much more than what you can see on camera. People in Hong Kong are now resisting in all possible and impossible ways, such as setting up a tiny bookstore to counter state-sponsored indoctrination, using public space for cultural activities or creating semi-public spaces for reading groups.

    But of course we are not going to defeat the network of control that oppresses us by ourselves, with a music concert or a reading group. We need help. This could take the form of the international media focusing more on Hong Kong, the United Nations setting up a special commission, or foreign governments putting economic pressure on China to change its Hong Kong policy. However, we all know that this will hardly happen. Not even Britain, our former colonial power, reacted strongly as China recently stated that their Joint Declaration on Hong Kong, which laid the blueprint for Hong Kong to organise after its handover to China, no longer had any practical significance. China is not fulfilling its promises and Britain is not doing anything about it. There’s a lot the international community could do, but there’s not much they are willing to do, given the facts of China’s economic and military rise. They all want to do business with China and do not dare bring up the Hong Kong issue. The cause of Hong Kong is unfortunately not nearly as popular as that of Tibet.

     

  • HONG KONG : « La loi sur la sécurité nationale viole la liberté d’expression et intensifie l’autocensure »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Patrick Poon, chercheur indépendant sur les droits humains, de la situation des droits humains à Hong Kong à la suite de l’adoption d’une nouvelle loi sur la sécurité nationale (LSN) en juin 2020. Patrick est un chercheur en doctorat à l’Université de Lyon en France,a précédemment travaillé comme chercheur sur la Chine à Amnesty International, et a occupé différents postes au sein du China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, du Independent Chinese PEN Center et du China Labor Bulletin.

    L’espace civique à Hong Kong est de plus en plus assiégé depuis le début d’une vague demanifestations de masse pour les libertés démocratiques en juin 2019, déclenchée par l’introduction d’un projet de loi sur l’extradition. LeCIVICUS Monitor a documenté l’usage excessif et mortel de la force contre les manifestants par les forces de sécurité, l’arrestation et la poursuite d’activistes pro-démocratie, ainsi que des attaques contre les médias indépendants.

     

  • HONG KONG: ‘La Ley de Seguridad Nacional viola la libertad de expresión y está intensificando la autocensura’

    CIVICUS conversa con Patrick Poon, investigador independiente en derechos humanos, sobre la situación de derechos humanos en Hong Kong tras la aprobación de una nueva Ley de Seguridad Nacional (LSN) en junio de 2020. Patrick es investigador de doctorado en la Universidad de Lyon, en Francia, y anteriormente trabajó como investigador sobre China en Amnistía Internacional y ocupó varias posiciones en el China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, el Independent Chinese PEN Center y el China Labor Bulletin.

    El espacio cívico en Hong Kong ha sufrido crecientes embates desde que en junio de 2019 comenzara una ola deprotestas masivas por las libertades democráticas, disparadas por la presentación de un proyecto de Ley de Extradición. ElCIVICUS Monitor ha documentado el uso de fuerza excesiva y letal contra manifestantes por parte de las fuerzas de seguridad y el arresto y el procesamiento de activistas prodemocracia, así como ataques contra los medios independientes.

    Patrick Poon

    ¿Por qué se impuso en Hong Kong la LSN y cuáles han sido sus impactos hasta ahora?

    La LSN, impuesta por el gobierno chino el 20 de junio de 2020, sin ninguna consulta o supervisión legislativa, faculta a China para extender del continente a Hong Kong algunas de sus herramientas más potentes de control social. La ley incluye la creación de agencias de seguridad secretas especializadas, permite denegar el derecho a un juicio justo, otorga amplios poderes a la policía, aumenta las restricciones sobre la sociedad civil y los medios de comunicación y debilita el control judicial.

    La nueva ley socava el estado de derecho y las garantías de derechos humanos consagradas en la constitución de facto de Hong Kong, la Ley Fundamental. Contraviene el Pacto Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos, que forma parte del marco jurídico de Hong Kong a través de la Ley Fundamental y se traduce en la Ordenanza para la Declaración de Derechos Humanos.

    La intención del gobierno chino es utilizar la LSN para frenar el trabajo de incidencia y reducir el apoyo a la independencia porque más gente, y particularmente jóvenes, están apoyando la autonomía de Hong Kong y adoptando la identidad hongkonesa. Aunque la Ley Fundamental de Hong Kong consagra un alto grado de autonomía, el gobierno chino parece considerar los llamamientos a la autonomía y el autogobierno como un “peligro para la seguridad nacional”.

    La LSN ha violado gravemente la libertad de expresión del pueblo de Hong Kong y está intensificando la autocensura en la ciudad. Bajo la LSN, quienes abogan por la independencia, así como los políticos y otras figuras prominentes que apoyan las sanciones de gobiernos extranjeros contra Hong Kong y contra los funcionarios chinos responsables de la promulgación de la LSN, han sido blanco de detenciones arbitrarias. El gobierno obviamente está intentando disuadir a otros de seguir el ejemplo de estas personas.

    Los medios independientes también se han visto afectados por la represión. El arresto de Jimmy Lai, magnate de los medios de comunicación y fundador del popular periódico local Apple Daily, así como de otros altos ejecutivos de la empresa, representó un intento del gobierno de castigar a los medios de comunicación que lo critican. La publicación de notas que critican la LSN o reportan pedidos de sanciones presentados por funcionarios de gobiernos extranjeros se convierten en excusa para la represión de los medios independientes. Esto tendrá un impacto a largo plazo sobre los medios de Hong Kong, ya que intensificará aún más la autocensura de algunos medios.

    ¿Cuál ha sido la respuesta de la sociedad civil y el movimiento prodemocracia?

    La sociedad civil ha reaccionado enérgicamente contra la ley porque el proceso para promulgarla violó el principio del estado de derecho y la justicia procesal de Hong Kong, y las definiciones vagas y amplias de varias disposiciones de la ley exceden la comprensión normal del derecho en la ciudad. Los políticos y funcionarios gubernamentales pro-China se han esforzado por justificar la ley, pero sus argumentos son absurdos.

    ¿Cómo han reaccionado la oposición y la sociedad civil ante la decisión del gobierno de posponer las elecciones legislativas a causa de la pandemia de COVID-19?

    Las elecciones de 2020 para el Consejo Legislativo de Hong Kong originalmente estaban programadas para el 6 de septiembre, pero en julio la Jefa Ejecutiva de Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, con el argumento de que estaban aumentando las infecciones por COVID-19, usó sus poderes de emergencia para posponerlas por un año entero, de modo que ahora se supone que tendrán lugar el 5 de septiembre de 2021. Lam negó que el cambio se debiera a especulaciones políticas, pero lo cierto es que fue un golpe para los activistas prodemocracia, que aspiraban a obtener la mayoría en el Consejo Legislativo.

    En un contexto de protestas masivas, los candidatos prodemocracia ya se habían impuesto por abrumadora mayoría en las elecciones para el Consejo de Distrito de 2019. Junto con la recién aprobada LSN, el aplazamiento de las elecciones fue visto como parte de la estrategia del gobierno para neutralizar el movimiento por la democracia. Justo antes del anuncio de la postergación de las elecciones, 12 candidatos de la oposición habían sido descalificados para postularse y cuatro jóvenes ex miembros de un grupo de estudiantes independentistas fueron arrestados bajo la LSN por sus publicaciones en favor de la independencia en las redes sociales.

    El aplazamiento de la elección creó cierto conflicto dentro del campo prodemocrático, ya que hubo quienes se pronunciaron por mantener la lucha en el Consejo Legislativo mientras que otros reclamaron un boicot a la decisión del gobierno de posponer las elecciones. A partir de la decisión del gobierno de descalificar a algunos candidatos prodemocracia por sus opiniones políticas, queda claro que el gobierno no quiere escuchar voces disidentes en la legislatura.

    ¿Cómo podrían la comunidad internacional y las organizaciones internacionales de la sociedad civil apoyar a la sociedad civil de Hong Kong?

    La sociedad civil de Hong Kong debe trabajar en conjunto para garantizar que el gobierno chino y el gobierno de Hong Kong no abusen de la LSN para ahogar todas las opiniones disidentes y monitorear de cerca si el gobierno cumple con los principios del estado de derecho y las normas internacionales de derechos humanos.

    La comunidad internacional debe seguir expresándose en contra de la represión emprendida por los gobiernos de China y Hong Kong contra la sociedad civil y debe seguir planteando su preocupación por la LSN, que el gobierno chino está imponiendo por la fuerza en Hong Kong en nombre de la seguridad nacional, pero que en realidad no es más que un intento de silenciar las opiniones disidentes en la ciudad. La comunidad internacional debe enviar un mensaje claro de que la seguridad nacional no debe utilizarse como excusa para reprimir la libertad de expresión.

    El espacio cívico en China es calificado como “cerrado” por elCIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • HONG KONG: ‘The National Security Law infringes on freedom of expression and is intensifying self-censorship’

    CIVICUS speaks with Patrick Poon, an independent human rights researcher, on the human rights situation in Hong Kong after a new National Security Law (NSL) was passed in June 2020. Patrick is a PhD researcher at the University of Lyon, France, and has previously worked as a China Researcher at Amnesty International and in various positions at China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, Independent Chinese PEN Center and China Labour Bulletin. 

    Civic space in Hong Kong is under renewed attack sincemass protests for democratic freedoms, sparked by a proposed Extradition Bill, began in June 2019. TheCIVICUS Monitor has documented excessive and lethal force by the security forces against protesters, arrests and the prosecution of pro-democracy activists as well as a crackdown on independent media.

       Patrick Poon

    Why has the NSL been imposed in Hong Kong and what have its impacts been so far?

    The NSL, imposed by the Chinese government on 20 June 2020, without any consultation or legislative oversight, empowers China to extend some of its most potent tools of social control from the mainland to Hong Kong. The law includes the creation of specialised secret security agencies, allows for the denial of the right to a fair trial, provides sweeping new powers to the police, increases restraints on civil society and the media and weakens judicial oversight.

    The new law undermines Hong Kong’s rule of law and the human rights guarantees enshrined in Hong Kong’s de facto constitution, the Basic Law. It contravenes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is incorporated into Hong Kong’s legal framework via the Basic Law and expressed in its Bill of Rights Ordinance.

    The Chinese government’s intention is to use the NSL to curb advocacy and support for independence as more people, especially young people, have increasingly embraced Hong Kong’s autonomy and their identity as Hongkongers. Although Hong Kong’s Basic Law enshrines a high degree of autonomy, the Chinese government apparently regards calls for autonomy and self-governance as a ‘danger to national security’.

    The NSL has seriously infringed Hong Kong people’s freedom of expression and is intensifying self-censorship in the city. Under the NSL, people who advocate for independence, as well as politicians and prominent figures who support foreign governments’ sanctions on Hong Kong and Chinese officials who are responsible for enacting the NSL, have been the target of the arbitrary arrests. The government is obviously attempting to scare off others not to follow these people’s calls. 

    Independent media have also been affected by the crackdown. The arrests of Jimmy Lai, media mogul and founder of popular local paper Apple Daily, and senior executives in his company, signify the government’s attempt to punish news media that are critical of it. Reports about criticism against the NSL and calls for sanctions by foreign government officials become the excuse for the crackdown on independent media. This will have long-term impact on Hong Kong media, even further intensifying self-censorship for some media outlets.

    How have civil society and the pro-democracy movement responded?

    Civil society has reacted strongly against the law because the process to enact it violated the principle of the rule of law and procedural justice in Hong Kong, and the vague and broad definitions of various provisions of the law exceed the normal understanding of law in the city. Pro-China politicians and government officials have been trying hard to justify the law, but their arguments are preposterous. 

    How have the opposition and civil society reacted to the government’s decision to postpone the legislative election due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

    The 2020 Hong Kong Legislative Council election was originally scheduled for 6 September 2020, but in July the Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, cited an upsurge in COVID-19 infections and used her emergency powers to postpone it for a whole year, so now it’s expected to take place on 5 September 2021. She denied that the change was due to any political speculation, but it was in fact a blow for pro-democracy activists, who were seeking a majority on the Legislative Council. 

    In the midst of massive protests, pro-democracy candidates had already won by a landslide in the 2019 District Council election. Along with the new NSL, the postponement of the election was viewed as part of the government’s strategy to neutralise the pro-democracy movement. Just prior to the announcement that the election was being postponed, 12 opposition candidates were disqualified from running, and four young former members of a pro-independence student group were arrested under the NSL for their pro-independence posts on social media.

    The postponement of the election created some conflict among the pro-democracy camp, with some calling for keeping up the fight in the Legislative Council and others urging a boycott over the government’s decision to postpone the elections. From the government’s decision to disqualify some pro-democracy candidates for their political views, it is clear that the government doesn’t want to hear any opposition voices in the legislature.

    What can the international community and international civil society organisations do to support civil society in Hong Kong?

    Civil society in Hong Kong needs to work together to ensure that the Chinese government and the Hong Kong government will not abuse the NSL to curb all dissenting views and closely monitor if the government abides by the principle of the rule of law and international human rights standards.

    The international community should continue speaking up against the Chinese and Hong Kong government’s crackdown on  civil society and keep raising concerns about the NSL, which is being forcibly imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese government in the name of national security, but in fact is no more than an attempt to silence dissenting views in the city. The international community should send a clear message that national security should not be used as an excuse to crack down on the freedom of expression.

    Civic space in China is rated as ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor. 

     

  • HONG KONG: ‘This is a leader-full movement, ran by countless small networks of talented people’

    johnson yeungCIVICUS speaks about the protests that have rocked Hong Kong since June 2019 with Johnson Ching-Yin Yeung, democracy movement organiser and chairperson of the Hong Kong Civil Hub. The Hong Kong Civil Hub works to connect Hong Kong civil society with like-minded international stakeholders willing to help promote the rule of law, democracy and human rights in Hong Kong. 

    What triggered the mass protests that have taken place for several months?

    The protests had both short and long-term causes. When Hong Kong was decolonised in 1997, China signed an international treaty promising that people in Hong Kong would enjoy a high degree of autonomy. In other words, Hong Kong would have its own government, legislation, courts and jurisdiction. But, long story short, China is not fulfilling that promise and Hong Kong is slowly becoming more like China due to Chinese intervention in our government and judiciary. Following the2014 Umbrella Movement, there have been increasing restrictions on the freedom of association, and for the first time in decades the government made use of colonial-era laws and outlawed organisations that advocated for Hong Kong’s independence. We expect restrictions on association, funding and exchanges with international organisations and civil society to increase over the next few years.

    Political participation has also been under attack. In 2017, for the first time since 1997, a few lawmakers were disqualified and expelled from the legislature. In the past three elections there have been disqualifications of candidates. This is becoming a major tactic used by China, based on claims that certain candidates are not respecting the law or they will not be loyal to Beijing. This explains why at some point people decided to take their grievances to the streets, given that most institutional channels for political demands are shut down.

    People took to the streets in 2014, under the Umbrella Movement. But protest is being severely punished. In April 2019, several pro-democracy leaders weresentenced to eight to 16 months in prison. Local leaders who advocate for political independence have also been punished with up to seven years of imprisonment.

    The current protests began in June 2019. On 9 June,more than a million people mobilised against the Extradition Bill, aimed at establishing a mechanism for transfers of fugitives to mainland China,  currently excluded in the existing law. Three days later, the legislature decided to continue the legislation process regardless of the opposition seen on the streets, so people besieged the parliamentary building, to which the Hong Kong police reacted with extreme brutality, firing teargas and rubber bullets, shooting into people’s heads and eyes.

    Amnesty International made a comprehensive report on the incidents of 12 June and concluded that the police had used excessive force, even though the protest had been authorised by the Hong Kong government.

    What changed after the repression of 12 June?

    There was a huge outcry because we had never experienced this kind of repression before, and two million people – almost one quarter of the population of Hong Kong – took part in the protests that took place four days after.

    From then on, protesters had a few additional demands on top of the initial demand that the extradition agreement be withdrawn, something that happened three months after the first protest. Protesters demanded the release of the arrested demonstrators and the withdrawal of the characterisation of the protests as riots, which is cause enough to hold someone and convict them: all it takes is for a defendant to have been present at the protest scene to face up to 10 years in prison for rioting. Protesters also demanded an independent inquiry into police activity. Over the past six months we’ve documented a lot of torture during detentions. Excessive force is used all the time against peaceful protests, so people really want the police to be held accountable. A recent survey showed that 80 per cent of the population support this demand. But the government is relying solely on the police to maintain order, so they cannot risk such investigation. Last but not least, there is the demand of universal suffrage and democratic rights, without which it is difficult to foresee anything else changing for real.

    What did not change was the government reaction and the police repression.Over the next few months, around 7,000 people were arrested – 40 per cent of them students, and 10 per cent minors – and around 120 people were charged. The fact that only 120 out of the 7,000 people arrested were charged shows that there have been lots of arbitrary arrests. The police would arrest people on grounds of illegal assembly. I was arrested in July when I was just standing in front of the corner line. I complied with police instructions, but I still got arrested.

    Thousands of people were injured during the protests. The official number is around 2,600 but this is a very conservative estimate because more than half of the injured people were not brought to public hospitals and did not seek medical assistance because they were afraid they would be arrested. Some doctors and nurses organised underground settlements to treat serious injuries like infections or rubber bullet injuries. But they had to remain anonymous and there simply were not enough of them and they didn’t have enough medical supply. There have been at least 12 suicides related to the protest movement. Lots of people have gone missing. Students and activists who are arrested are often deprived of their right to a lawyer and a phone call, and no one knows where they are detained. In many cases, it’s hard to verify whether people are in fact missing or have fled the country.

    Analysts have claimed that the strength of the current protests lies in their ‘leaderless’ character, something that prevents the government stopping the movement by jailing leaders. Do you agree with this characterisation?

    Many observers have seen the way we have used technology to coordinate the protests and they have concluded that our movement has no leaders. It is true that our movement is characterised by the decentralisation of communications and mobilisation. But this does not mean it is aleaderless movement. On the contrary, the Hong Kong protest movement is a leader-full movement: it is full of leaders and is run by countless small networks of talented people capable of organising and coordinating action on their own.

    While the demography of the protests is quite diverse in terms of age, background and social class, more than the 50 per cent of protesters are female, and the major force of the protests are people aged 20 to 49. There is also a strong presence of highly educated people: more than 85 per cent of protesters have tertiary education or above.

    But a notable characteristic of this disparate protest movement has been its unity, which may have resulted from the longstanding repression of civil society. When the leaders of the 2014 protests – most of them young students – were sentenced to prison, older people showed up at the protests because they felt that they had not been doing enough. People also united against police brutality, because there was no previous history of such a serious crackdown on protesters and people felt morally responsible to show up in support.

    Can you tell us more about how the protest movement has used technology for organising and coordinating action?

    During the first few months at least, people would rely on their cellphones and the Telegram app. People would have strategic discussions and channel these discussions into a Telegram channel. These are not the safest communication tools but they can hold more than 3,000 subscribers, which means that you can speak to 3,000 people at the same time, you can share action timetables, the site of protests or the location of the police with a huge number of people. We use a live map to inform protesters where the police are and where the protests are taking place, so they can avoid being arrested. Another app shows which businesses and stores are supportive of the movement. Pro-democracy businesses appear in yellow, while pro-government ones appear in blue.

    We also use Telegram bots for international advocacy. A group of people is dedicated to disseminating information on Twitter and Interact.

    We also use social media as a recruitment tool because after an action is held, people use social media to reflect about the strategies used and assess the outcomes. But after a few months, people started using online apps less and less. They would instead form their own groups and organise their own actions. There are frontier leaders, first leaders, people working on documentation, people who organise street protests – each is doing their own thing while at the same time warning others about clashes and organising timetables. This is how we use civic tech.

    How has the movement managed to grow and thrive in adverse conditions?

    Several elements explain why people keep showing up and why the movement is so resilient against government repression. First, people deploy their actions in their own neighbourhoods. We disperse action rather than concentrate it, because when we use concentration tactics, such as holding a protest in front of a government building, we become an easy target for the police. In the face of dispersed actions, the police would try to disperse protesters but would often end up attacking passers-by or people going about their business in their own neighbourhoods. For many people not involved directly in the protests, this was also a wake-up call and functioned as a recruitment mechanism: police brutality ceased to be a far-away problem; instead, it hit home and became personal, triggering a protective reaction.

    A tactic commonly used by protesters is the Lennon Wall, in which people post messages in public spaces, which creates a sense of community and helps organise public support. Lennon Walls appear in various places and people use them to send and receive information about the protests. People also put posters in bus stops so when people are waiting for the bus they can get information about the protests. People sing in protest in shopping malls. This way, people use their lunchtime to sing a song and protest while going about their business, and they reach people who don’t read the news and don’t pay much attention to politics. That is one of the key lessons here.

    Another key lesson concerns the importance of the unity between the moderate side and the radical front of the protests. Given that even authorised protests would be dispersed with teargas for no reason, some people began resorting to more militant actions to combat the police and protect their space. Some social movement analysts claim that radical incidents diminish popular support for the movement, but this does not seem to be happening in Hong Kong. In a recent survey, more than 60 per cent of respondents said they understood the use of violence by the people. I suppose that one reason why people do not reject militant actions is that they view the government and the police as responsible for most of the violence, and view violence by protesters as a fairly understandable response. Another reason is that radical protesters have been careful not to target ordinary people but only the police and pro-government businesses.

    What else have you learned in the process?

    A big lesson that we’ve learned concerns the effectiveness of creativity and humour to offset government repression. Protesters used laser tags to disable cameras used for the surveillance of protesters, so people started to get arrested for buying laser tags. After a student was arrested for possessing a laser tag, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in a public space and used laser tags to point at a public building. Another example of an effective response took place in early October 2019. There is a law that states that people can be jailed for a year if they wear a mask or anything covering their faces, so people responded in defiance, forming a human chain in which everyone was wearing some kind of mask.

    We’ve also come to understand the importance of global solidarity and leveraging geopolitics. The Hong Kong diaspora has organised a lot of lobbying and advocacy in various cities around the world. We have also lobbied foreign governments and supported the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, a bill that was introduced in the US Congress following the Umbrella Movement in 2014, but that was only passed in November 2019. This law requires the US government to impose sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong, and requires the US Department of State and other agencies to conduct an annual review to determine whether changes in Hong Kong's political status – namely its relationship with mainland China – justify changing the unique and favourable trade relations between the USA and Hong Kong. This is huge, and we are trying to replicate this in other countries, including Australia, Canada, Italy and New Zealand.

    We have also done advocacy at the United Nations (UN), where some resolutions about police brutality have been passed. But the UN is quite weak at the moment, and aside from the documentation of human rights violations there is not much they can do. Any resolution regarding the protests will be blocked by China at the UN Security Council. That said, a thorough UN investigation on police brutality would send a strong message anyway. We have been communicating with human rights civil society organisations to do more advocacy at the UN.

    We are also looking for alternative tactics such as working with unions in France, because water cannons are manufactured in France and we hope something can be done about it.

    What have the protests achieved so far?

    The democratic camp has made a lot of progress. In November 2019 we had elections for the District Council. True, the District Council doesn’t have any real political power because it carries out neighbourhood duties, like garbage collection and traffic management. Still, in the latest election 388 out of 452 seats went to the pro-democracy camps, whereas back in 2015 they were only 125 pro-democracy representatives, compared with 299 who were pro-Beijing.

    That said, I don’t think the pro-democracy movement should put too much of its energy into institutional politics because the District Council is not a place where the political crisis can be solved. However, the elections served as a solid foundation for organisers to organise people at the local level.

    According to the polls, almost 90 per cent of the people supported independent investigation of human rights violations, more than 70 per cent demanded the resignation of the Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, and 75 per cent supported universal suffrage. That kind of popular support has remained stable for several months, which is pretty amazing.

    What are the challenges ahead?

    While there is no sign of protests calming down, there is also no sign of the government making concessions anytime soon. Violence is escalating on both sides, and the protest movement might lose public support if some demonstrators decide to go underground. The Chinese government will not let itself be challenged by protesters, so it is infiltrating organisations and tightening the grip on civil society. Organised civil society is relatively weak, and Beijing can easily interfere with academic institutions, schools and the media by appointing more allies and dismissing those who are critical of the government. The next five years will likely be tough ones for civil society and democracy in Hong Kong, and we will have to work to strengthen civil society’s resilience.

    Another important issue is that a lot of young protesters are traumatised by the violence they have witnessed and experienced. We have support groups with social workers and psychologists, but they cannot provide support in their official capacity or they would find themselves under pressure by their employers who take money from the government. Social workers are also at risk and the police constantly harass them. To strengthen self-care and gain resilience for the battle ahead, we need to train more people and create support groups to help people cope, control their stress and share their stories.

    Another potential challenge is the limited sustainability of global solidarity. Right now Hong Kong is in the spotlight, but this will not last long. Our struggle is for the long haul, but the world will not be paying attention for much longer. So we will need to build more substantial and permanent alliances and partnerships with civil society groups around the world. We need to empower local groups and give people new skills regarding international law, advocacy and campaigning. The protest movement is not going anywhere. It’s going to be a long struggle so we will have to train more organisers. We will disseminate the knowledge gained by the protesters, so when they are sent to jail others will take over.

    Civic space in China is rated as ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Hong Kong Civil Hub through itswebsite and follow@hkjohnsonyeung on Twitter.

     

  • Hong Kong: Crackdown on democratic freedoms continues with mass arrests

    Global civil society alliance CIVICUS condemns the mass arbitrary arrests in Hong Kong this week in an unprecedented crackdown on democratic freedoms and calls for the immediate release of all those detained. The arrests are the clearest sign yet that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under President Xi Jinping is determined to stamp out political opposition in the region.

    53 people, including pro-democracy activists, opposition candidates and former lawmakers, and lawyers, were arrested and detained under the draconian National Security Law (NSL). The 53 have been accused of ‘subverting state power’ by holding and participating in primary elections held by Hong Kong’s pro-democratic party in July 2020. At the time, China declared the primaries ‘illegal’. 

    Among those arrested is  Benny Tai, an activist and legal scholar. Former legislators James To, Lam Cheuk-ting, Claudia Mo and Leung Kwok-hung and Eddie Chu Hoi-dick were also arrested. Others include young pro-democracy campaigners Lester Shum, Gwyneth Ho, Tiffany Yuen and Jeffrey Andrews. Police also searched the home of already-detained activist Joshua Wong, as well as three news outlets.

    The arrests took place in early-morning raids on 6 January, compounding a climate of fear pervasive in Hong Kong since the NSL was adopted in June 2020. The NSL has been heavily criticized by human rights groups for undermining fair trial rights, providing sweeping new powers to the police, increasing restrictions on civil society and the media and weakening judicial oversight. Protests against the law were some of the biggest in Hong Kong’s history.

    Following its adoption, the law was immediately used to prosecute activists and critics, prompting a statement in July 2020 from the UN Human Rights Office that ‘such laws should never be used to criminalize conduct and expression that is protected under international human rights law.’ The repression enabled by the law, of which this week’s mass arrests are just the latest example, clearly shows once again that the concerns raised by the law and protests against it were entirely justified.

    More than 10,000 people have been arrested overall in connection with the 2019 protests against the NSL, and more than 2,000 have faced prosecution on charges such as “rioting”, “illegal assembly” and “possession of weapons”. In December 2020, prominent pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam were convicted on charges relating to peaceful protests in 2019 and handed jail sentences. Wong was sentenced to 13.5 months in jail, Chow to 10 months and Lam to seven months. 

    In September 2020, CIVICUS joined over 300 organisations in endorsing a call by UN experts for a Special Session of the Human Rights Council to evaluate the range of violations by China’s government, including those in Hong Kong, and to establish an impartial and independent UN mechanism to closely monitor, analyze, and report annually on that topic.  Organizations also urged the UN Secretary-General to appoint a Special Envoy, consistent with his Call to Action on Human Rights, and called call on the High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor and publicly report on China’s sweeping rights violations. 

    As the Council prepares to sit again in February for its 46th Session, CIVICUS reiterates these calls. China became a member of the Council in October 2020 – taking action to address its human rights violations is not only crucial to support those on the ground, including activists in Hong Kong who face persecution and incarceration, but it would also send a strong message that no country is above scrutiny. At the moment, the international community is falling far short on both counts.

     

  • Human Rights Council adopts resolution on peaceful protests

    Reaction to resolution on peaceful protests at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    With the adoption of a new resolution on peaceful protests, the Human Rights Council has sent a strong message that it stands by peaceful protesters who mobilise for change, and that law enforcement officials who perpetrate violence against protesters must be held to account.

    All over the world, protesters have been mobilizing and standing up to win better working conditions, further equality, and end forms of oppression. But in too many cases, from Chile to Hong Kong to the US, protesters, protest monitors and journalists have been met with repression and police brutality, often with complete impunity. We urge states to ensure full accountability for human rights violations perpetrated by law enforcement in the context of peaceful protests. 

    The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the urgency of the protection of online assembly. Given this context, CIVICUS welcomes that the resolution strongly reaffirms that the rights of peaceful assembl guaranteed offline are also guaranteed online. We thank Switzerland and Costa Rica in bringing forward this resolution, which could not come at a more critical time for the protection of peaceful protests worldwide.

    The resolution mandates the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association to prepare over the next two years a dedicated report on the protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests during crisis situations. It also provides for a panel discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, looking at achievements and contemporary challenges, at the Council Session next June.


    Current council members:

    Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

    Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

    OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

     

  • Progress and shortcomings from 44th Session of the Human Rights Council

    Joint Statement for the end of the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    The 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council began with China's imposition of legislation severely undermining rights and freedoms in Hong Kong. Within days, there were reports of hundreds of arrests, some for crimes that didn’t even exist previously. We welcome efforts this session by a growing number of States to collectively address China’s sweeping rights abuses, but more is needed. An unprecedented 50 Special Procedures recently expressed concerns at China’s mass violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet, suppression of information in the context of Covid-19, and targeting of human rights defenders across the country. The Council should heed the call of these UN experts to hold a Special Session and create a mechanism to monitor and document rights violations in the country. No state is beyond international scrutiny. China’s turn has come.

    The 44th session also marked an important opportunity to enable those affected directly by human rights violations to speak to the Council through NGO video statements.

    Amnesty's Laith Abu Zeyad addressed the Council remotely from the occupied West Bank where he has been trapped by a punitive travel ban imposed by Israel since October 2019. We call on the Israeli authorities to end all punitive or arbitrary travel bans.

    During the interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, victims’ associations and families of victims highlighted the human rights violations occurring in detention centers in Syria. We welcome the efforts by some States to underline their demands and welcome the adoption of the Syria resolution on detainees and urge the Syrian government to take all feasible measures to release detainees and provide truth to the families, noting the important pressure needed by Member States to further call for accountability measures for crimes committed in Syria.

    Collette Flanagan, Founder of Mothers against Police Brutality, also delivered a powerful video statement at the Council explaining the reality of racist policing in the United States of America. We fully support victims’ families’ appeals to the Council for accountability.

    We hope that the High Commissioner's reporton systemic racism, police violence and government responses to antiracism peaceful protests will be the first step in a series of meaningful international accountability measures to fully and independently investigate police killings, to protect and facilitate Black Lives Matter and other protests, and to provide effective remedy and compensation to victims and their families in the United States of America and around the world.

    We appreciate the efforts made by the Council Presidency and OHCHR to overcome the challenges of resuming the Council’s work while taking seriously health risks associated with COVID-19, including by increasing remote and online participation. We recommend that remote civil society participation continue and be strengthened for all future sessions of the Council.

    Despite these efforts, delays in finalising the session dates and modalities, and subsequent changes in the programme of work, reduced the time CSOs had to prepare and engage meaningfully. This has a disproportionate impact on CSOs not based in Geneva, those based in different time zones and those with less capacity to monitor the live proceedings. Other barriers to civil society participation this session included difficulties to meet the strict technical requirements for uploading video statements, to access resolution drafts and follow informal negotiations remotely, especially from other time zones, as well as a decrease in the overall number of speaking slots available for NGO statements due to the cancellation of general debates this session as an ‘efficiency measure.’

    We welcome the joint statement led by the core group on civil society space and endorsed by cross regional States and civil society, which calls on the High Commissioner to ensure that the essential role of civil society, and States’ efforts to protect and promote civil society space, are reflected in the report on impact of the COVID-19 pandemic presented to the 46th Session of the HRC. We urge all States at this Council to recognise and protect the key role that those who defend human rights play.

    These last two years have seen unlawful use of force perpetrated by law enforcement against peaceful protesters, protest monitors, journalists worldwide, from the United States of America to Hong Kong, to Chile to France, Kenya to Iraq to Algeria, to India to Lebanon with impunity.

    We therefore welcome that the resolution “the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests” was adopted by consensus, and that the Council stood strongly against some proposed amendments which would have weakened it. We also welcome the inclusion in the resolution of a panel during the 48th session to discuss such events and how States can strengthen protections. We urge States to ensure full accountability for such human rights violations as an essential element of the protection of human rights in the context of protests. The current context has accelerated the urgency of protecting online assembly, and we welcome that the resolution reaffirms that peaceful assembly rights guaranteed offline are also guaranteed online. In particular, we also commend the resolution for calling on States to refrain from internet shutdowns and website blocking during protests, while incorporating language on the effects of new and emerging technologies, particularly tools such as facial recognition, international mobile subscriber identity-catchers (“stingrays”) and closed-circuit television.

    We welcome that the resolution on “freedom of opinion and expression” contains positive language including on obligations surrounding the right to information, emphasising the importance of measures for encryption and anonymity, and strongly condemning the use of internet shutdowns. Following the High Commissioner’s statement raising alarm at the abuse of ‘false news’ laws to crackdown on free expression during the COVID-19 pandemic, we also welcome that the resolution stresses that responses to the spread of disinformation and misinformation must be grounded in international human rights law, including the principles of lawfulness, legitimacy, necessity and proportionality. At the same time, we are concerned by the last minute addition of language which focuses on restrictions to freedom of expression, detracting from the purpose of the resolution to promote and protect the right. As we look to the future, it is important that the core group builds on commitments contained in the resolution and elaborate on pressing freedom of expression concerns of the day, particularly for the digital age, such as the issue of surveillance or internet intermediary liability, while refocusing elements of the text.

    The current context has not only accelerated the urgency of protecting assembly and access to information, but also the global recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. We welcome the timely discussions on ”realizing children’s right to a healthy environment” and the concrete suggestions for action from panelists, States, and civil society. The COVID-19 crisis, brought about by animal-to-human viral transmission, has clarified the interlinkages between the health of the planet and the health of all people. We therefore support the UN Secretary General’s call to action on human rights, as well as the High Commissioner’s statement advocating for the global recognition of the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment – already widely reflected at national and regional levels - and ask that the Council adopts a resolution in that sense. We also support the calls made by the Marshall Islands, Climate Vulnerable Forum, and other States of the Pacific particularly affected and threatened by climate change. We now urge the Council to strengthen its role in tackling the climate crisis and its adverse impacts on the realization of human rights by establishing a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change, which will help address the urgency of the situation and amplify the voices of affected communities.

    The COVID crisis has also exacerbated discrimination against women and girls. We welcome the adoption by the Council of a strong resolution on multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination against women and girls, which are exacerbated in times of a global pandemic. The text, inter alia, reaffirms the rights to sexual and reproductive health and to bodily autonomy, and emphasizes legal obligations of States to review their legislative frameworks through an intersectional approach. We regret that such a timely topic has been questioned by certain States and that several amendments were put forward on previously agreed language.

    The Council discussed several country-specific situations, and renewed the mandates in some situations.

    We welcome the renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and ongoing scrutiny on Belarus. The unprecedented crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers and members of the political opposition in recent weeks ahead of the Presidential election in August provide a clear justification for the continued focus, and the need to ensure accountability for Belarus’ actions. With concerns that the violations may increase further over the next few weeks, it is essential that the Council members and observers maintain scrutiny and pressure even after the session has finished.

    We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea. We urge the government to engage, in line with its Council membership obligations, as the Special Rapporteur’s ‘benchmarks for progress’ form a road map for human rights reform in the country. We welcome the High Commissioner report on the human rights situation in the Philippines which concluded, among other things, that the ongoing killings appear to be widespread and systematic and that “the practical obstacles to accessing justice in the country are almost insurmountable.” We regret that even during this Council session, President Duterte signed an Anti Terrorism Law with broad and vague definition of terrorism and terrorists and other problematic provisions for human rights and rule of law, which we fear will be used to stifle and curtail the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Also during this session, in a further attack on press freedom, Philippine Congress rejected the franchise renewal of independent media network ABS-CBN, while prominent journalist Maria Ressa and her news website Rappler continue to face court proceedings and attacks from President Duterte after Ressa’s cyber libel conviction in mid-June. We support the call from a group of Special Procedures to the Council to establish an independent, impartial investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines and urge the Council to establish it at the next session.

    The two reports presented to the Council on Venezuela this session further document how lack of judicial independence and other factors perpetuate impunity and prevent access to justice for a wide range of violations of civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights in the country. We also urge the Council to stand ready to extend, enhance and expand the mandate of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission when it reports in September. We also welcome the report of the Special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967 and reiterate his call for States to ensure Israel puts an end to all forms of collective punishment. We also reiterate his call to ensure that the UN database of businesses involved with Israeli settlements becomes a living tool, through sufficient resourcing and annual updating.

    We regret, however, that several States have escaped collective scrutiny this session.

    We reiterate the UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard’s call to pressure Saudi Arabia to release prisoners of conscience and women human rights defenders and call on all States to sustain the Council’s scrutiny over the situation at the September session.

    Despite calls by the High Commissioner for prisoners’ release, Egypt has arrested defenders, journalists, doctors and medical workers for criticizing the government’s COVID-19 response. We recall that all of the defenders that the Special Procedures and the High Commissioner called for their release since September 2019 are still in pre-trial detention. The Supreme State Security Prosecution and 'Terrorism Circuit courts' in Egypt, are enabling pre-trial detention as a form of punishment including against human rights defenders and journalists and political opponents, such as Ibrahim Metwally, Mohamed El-Baqer and Esraa Abdel Fattah, Ramy Kamel, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Patrick Zaky, Ramy Shaat, Eman Al-Helw, Solafa Magdy and Hossam El-Sayed. Once the terrorism circuit courts resumed after they were suspended due to COVID-19, they renewed their detention retroactively without their presence in court. It’s high time the Council holds Egypt accountable.

    As highlighted in a joint statement of Special Procedures, we call on the Indian authorities to immediately release HRDs, who include students, activists and protest leaders, arrested for protesting against changes to India’s citizenship laws. Also eleven prominent HRDs continue to be imprisoned under false charges in the Bhima Koregaon case. These activists face unfounded terror charges under draconian laws such as sedition and under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. While we welcome that Safoora Zargar was granted bail on humanitarian grounds, the others remain at high risk during a COVID-19 pandemic in prisons with not only inadequate sanitary conditions but also limited to no access to legal counsel and family members. A number of activists have tested positive in prison, including Akhil Gogoi and 80-year-old activist Varavara Rao amid a larger wave of infections that have affected many more prisoners across the country. Such charges against protestors, who were exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly must be dropped. We call on this Council to strengthen their demands to the government of India for accountability over the excessive use of force by the police and other State authorities against the demonstrators.

    In Algeria, between 30 March and 16 April 2020, the Special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, human rights defenders, issued three urgent appeals in relation to cases involving arbitrary and violent arrests, unfair trials and reprisals against human rights defenders and peaceful activists Olaya Saadi, Karim Tabbou and Slimane Hamitouche. Yet, the Council has been silent with no mention of the crackdown on Algerian civil society, including journalists.

    To conclude on a positive note, we welcome the progress in the establishment of the OHCHR country office in Sudan, and call on the international community to continue to provide support where needed to the transitional authorities. While also welcoming their latest reform announcements, we urge the transitional authorities to speed up the transitional process, including reforms within the judiciary and security sectors, in order to answer the renewed calls from protesters for the enjoyment of "freedom, peace and justice" of all in Sudan. We call on the Council to ensure continued monitoring and reporting on Sudan.

    ENDORSEMENTS

    International Service for Human Rights
    DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    Center for Reproductive Rights
    Franciscans International
    The Syrian Legal Development Programme
    Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR)
    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
    International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA World)
    Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)
    Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
    ARTICLE 19
    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
    IFEX
    Association for Progressive Communications
    International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
    Amnesty International

     


    Current council members:

    Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina FasoBrazil, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, ItalyJapan, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

    Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

    OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

     

     

  • UN must condemn systematic violations of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong

    The UN’s highest official principally responsible for human rights, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, should publicly denounce the Hong Kong Government for its systematic violations of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and condemn the unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by police in Hong Kong. 

    The Hong Kong Police Force have systematically suppressed the right to peaceful assembly by using excessive force against individuals exercising their rights, including beating peaceful protesters and using tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets. Police have increasingly denied permits for assemblies and marches and arbitrarily detained individuals for “unlawful assembly.” 

    The Hong Kong and Chinese Central governments have allowed police to operate with complete impunity. No police officer has faced legal action over excessive use of force or abuse of power in connection to the violent suppression of the protests since the demonstrations broke out. In contrast, police have arrested almost 4,500 individuals in connection to the protests since June 9. There has been credible evidence of torture and ill-treatment of protestors by police in detention.

    On November 19, the Office of the High Commissioner released a press briefing which stated incorrectly that the Hong Kong “authorities have by and large respected the exercise of [the] right [to peaceful assembly].” The Office of the High Commissioner failed to condemn police violence. This amounts to a denial of the extensive documentation from credible sources of violations of human rights in Hong Kong and ignores concerns raised by other UN independent experts.

    According to the mandate determined by the UN General Assembly, the High Commissioner has the responsibility to “promote and protect the effective enjoyment by all of all human rights,” and to “play an active role in removing the current obstacles and in meeting the challenges to the full realization of all human rights and in preventing the continuation of human rights violations throughout the world.”

    This mandate asks that the High Commissioner use her position to raise serious concerns about human rights abuses everywhere in the world. By not doing so, the Office has harmed its credibility by ignoring police brutality and the suppression of the Hong Kong people’s largely peaceful exercise of their fundamental freedoms. 

    China’s Government in Beijing has increasingly signalled that it is ultimately in charge in Hong Kong. On November 16, People’s Liberation Army soldiers cleared up debris and bricks, without being invited by the Hong Kong Government to assist, as required by the Basic Law. On November 18, China’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom Liu Xiaoming said, “We [the Central Government] have enough resolution and power to end the unrest.” Holding the China-controlled Hong Kong Government accountable for its human rights abuses is a key test if the UN can resist interference in the UN human rights system by an increasingly powerful China. 

    Beginning in June, millions of people in Hong Kong have publicly demonstrated against an extradition bill to Mainland China that would have undermined the separate freedoms that are enshrined in law in Hong Kong. The police have repeatedly responded to these peaceful protests with excessive force, and the protests have since morphed into a movement denouncing police violence and demanding full democratic rights for the people of Hong Kong. Police inaction in the face of attacks on protesters, journalists and bystanders at the Yuen Long MTR Station on July 21 represented a clear failure to protect the rights to life and security of persons. Journalists trying to cover the protests have faced violence, intimidation, and threats from police, including an incident in which police shot an Indonesian journalist in the face with a rubber bullet while she covered the protests, permanently blinding her in one eye. Medics and social workers providing assistance to arrestees and injured individuals have also faced police obstruction.

    The political situation in Hong Kong has deteriorated since October. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam used colonial-era emergency powers to ban face-masks at assemblies (which was later ruled unconstitutional) and police have used live ammunition to shoot three young protesters. The death of 22-year-old student Chow Tsz-lok (周梓樂) on November 8 after being injured close to a police operation sparked the most recent outbreak of violence; the campuses of Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and Polytechnic University have been turned into battlefields. While certain protestors have used violence, including petrol bombs, bricks and arrows, the Hong Kong Police Force’s response has been severe and disproportionate. Hong Kong police must distinguish violent elements from peaceful protestors and restrict the use of force to the minimum extent necessary, in accordance with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

    On June 28, four UN independent human rights experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council sent a communication to the Chinese Government raising concern over allegations of excessive use of force by Hong Kong police on June 12 against “overwhelmingly peaceful” demonstrators. These same four experts then issued a public statement on September 12 stating, “We are seriously concerned by credible reports of repeated instances where the authorities failed to ensure a safe environment for individuals to engage in public protest free from violence or interference.” We are disappointed that this language does not appear in the Office of the High Commissioner’s November 19 press statement. 

    On August 13, the High Commissioner’s spokesperson said the Office has “credible evidence” of law enforcement officials using some anti-riot measures which are “prohibited by international norms and standards” and urged the Hong Kong authorities to “act with restraint.” The failure of Hong Kong authorities to heed this call from the High Commissioner’s office should have been raised in the latest press statement. Instead, the statement lacks a sense of proportion between the violent actions of small groups of protesters and the systematic use of unnecessary and disproportionate force by police against unarmed protesters.

    The High Commissioner herself called on the Hong Kong Government to immediately carry out an “effective, prompt, independent and impartial investigation” into violence during a press conference on October 5. Hong Kong has no independent mechanism to investigate excessive use of force by authorities, as the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC)’s expert advisers themselves re-confirmed recently. The IPCC does not have investigatory powers such as subpoenaing documents and summoning witnesses. The Human Rights Committee, which monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, raised concern over the lack of independence of the IPCC to the Hong Kong Government in 2013. 

    The High Commissioner for Human Rights must call on Hong Kong authorities to take concrete steps to de-escalate tensions and reduce violence on both sides - police and protesters. As a minimum first step, Hong Kong authorities must establish an independent commission of inquiry into excessive use of police force, bringing to justice any law enforcement official responsible for unlawful use of force, as well as their superior officers. Any response to allegations of violent attacks on police must be handled through a fair judicial process. Those detained solely for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and free expression should be unconditionally released and charges against them should be immediately dropped.

    This statement is endorsed by: 

    Amnesty International 
    Article 19 
    Australia Tibet Council
    Child Rights International Network (CRIN)
    Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)
    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    Covenants Watch Taiwan
    CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
    Free Tibet
    Geneva for Human Rights
    International Campaign for Tibet 
    International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 
    International Tibet Network Secretariat
    International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific
    Safeguard Defenders
    Students for a Free Tibet
    Taiwan Association for Human Rights
    Tibet Action Institute
    Tibet Justice Center
    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
    World Uyghur Congress 

     

  • UN resolution needed to protect peaceful protests during the pandemic and beyond

    Joint statement at the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of association and peaceful assembly


    Madame President, Special Rapporteur,

    We thank the Special Rapporteur for his report, and for the work the mandate has done to protect freedom of assembly and association worldwide. These fundamental rights underpin the very existence of civil society.

    The report highlights that there have been multiple examples of civil society and social movements across the world galvanizing positive change, defending hard-won democratic values and developing innovative practices to address issues of injustice. People coming together to speak out have won better working conditions, furthered equality, ended forms of oppression.

    The benefits of a vibrant civil society, and of human rights defenders who are free to do their work, are tangible. In the past months, we have seen that society is central to crisis response and will continue to be central in building back better. There are so many gains still to come.

    States who suppress individuals and groups simply for speaking out willfully deny such enrichment.

    In Hong Kong, a sweeping security law imposed by China last week risks destroying its free and open civil society. Protesters have already been criminalized by the law. In India, suppression of peaceful protests against a discriminatory citizenship and arrests of human rights defenders who took part in these meetings represent efforts to silence voices against inequality and injustice. In the USA, Black lives Matter protests against systemic racism and police brutality have been met with state-sanctioned violence, including the deliberate targeting of journalists. In Egypt a systematic crack-down on civil society, human rights defenders and independent journalists has accelerated in the last several months.

    The current pandemic has accelerated and exacerbated existing challenges and there are numerous cases of States weaponizing the COVID-19 pandemic against civil society, from Hungary to Algeria to the Philippines.

    The rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly are simply the right to organize and mobilise for a fairer, more just world. This session, the Council members have the opportunity to better protect these rights. We urge all States to support the resolution on peaceful protests, and to commit to ensuring space and voice for those who come together to speak out.

    Thank you.

    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    International Service for Human Rights
    East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project
    Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
    FORUM-ASIA
    The African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
    Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies


    Current council members:

    Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

    Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

    OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED