UN human rights experts have told China a new security law for Hong Kong “infringes on certain fundamental rights” and voiced concerns that it could be used to prosecute political activists in the former British colony.
In a rare joint letter made public on Sept. 4, some 48 hours after it was sent to the Chinese government, they also said provisions of the new law appear to undermine the independence of Hong Kong’s judges and lawyers, and the right to freedom of expression.
The “open letter” reflected a detailed legal analysis of the national security law imposed in Hong Kong on June 30, which had already drawn UN criticism before its adoption.
The law allows for anything China views as subversive, secessionist, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces to be punished with up to life in prison. Authorities in Beijing and the financial centre have said the law is necessary to ensure Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity.
Critics say the legislation further erodes the wide-ranging freedoms promised to Hong Kong on its return to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” agreement.
The 14-page letter, posted on the website of the UN human rights office, was sent by Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN special rapporteur on protecting human rights while countering terrorism, and six other UN experts.
The independent experts said the law’s measures do not conform to China’s legal obligations under international law and voiced concern that the legislation “lacks precision in key respects, (and) infringes on certain fundamental rights”.
The law “should not be used to restrict or limit protected fundamental freedoms, including the rights to opinion, expression, and of peaceful assembly,” they said.
The group also expressed concern that “many legitimate activities” of human rights defenders in Hong Kong would be redefined as illegal.
The experts urged China to explain how it plans to enforce “extra-territorial jurisdiction” contained in the new law so as to ensure it complies with a landmark international treaty on civil and political rights, signed by Beijing.
Protests in Hong Kong last year were fuelled by perceptions that Communist Party-ruled Beijing was tightening its grip on freedoms, which authorities have denied.
They began with peaceful marches against a since-withdrawn bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but clashes between police and protesters became more violent over following months.
China should appoint a “fully independent reviewer” to examine the law’s compliance with its international human rights obligations, the experts said.