NEW YORK (November 25, 2020) – The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) has submitted an Urgent Appeal to three Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations Human Rights Council, petitioning them to hold the Chinese and Hong Kong governments accountable for violating the right to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and right to privacy over the implementation of Hong Kong’s new national security law.
Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China that was promised a high degree of freedom and autonomy. However, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Hong Kong government have rapidly eroded the fundamental freedoms of Hong Kong since its return to China in 1997. A pro-democracy movement erupted in Hong Kong last year to protest against the CCP’s threat to Hong Kong’s autonomy and rule of law.
Struggling to curb opposition, the CCP unilaterally approved a controversial national security law that came into effect on June 30, 2020, bypassing Hong Kong’s legislative process. The vaguely worded national security law criminalizes acts that incite “secession, subversion, terrorism, or foreign interference.” To implement the new law, the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) set up a tip-off hotline in November of this year to encourage citizens to report acts that would allegedly endanger national security.
“Encouraging the public to report on each other is an age-old totalitarian tactic used by the Chinese Communist Party for social control,” said Roberto Gonzalez, Senior Legal Associate of HRF. “After last year’s large-scale protests, the party aims to turn Hong Kong into a police state, where fear and self-censorship would dictate people’s daily lives. The international community must keep speaking out on behalf of the people in Hong Kong, who are losing more freedom by the day.”
The establishment of a reporting culture is a powerful weapon for an authoritarian government to instill fear in society. Local officials have framed spying as an act of courage and righteousness, thus reinforcing a mass-movement style reporting system where people report their neighbors, teachers, and even parents in order to shield themselves from the authorities’ suspicion. The hotline sets a dangerous precedent in a city previously accustomed to freedom of speech and violates the right to privacy of Hong Kong citizens.
The CCP employs similar tactics. Recently, Chinese citizens were encouraged to report violations of social distancing to the authorities in exchange for cash rewards. These types of initiatives turn citizens against each other, reinforce distrust, and ultimately achieve self-censorship and thought control.
The vaguely worded national security law further allows the Hong Kong government to target dissidents in breach of their rights to free opinion and expression. The law is also used as a tool to crack down on peaceful assemblies and to justify widespread arbitrary arrests and detentions.
According to HRF’s Urgent Appeal submitted today, Hong Kong’s implementation of the national security law is in breach of rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. HRF urges the U.N. Special Rapporteurs to investigate Hong Kong’s implementation of the law and to request the immediate suspension of the tip-off hotline to halt further erosion of fundamental freedoms in the city.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.
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