Amnesty closes offices in Hong Kong saying new security law makes work 'impossible'

Amnesty closes offices in Hong Kong saying new security law makes work 'impossible'
Amnesty said the decision was made 'with a heavy heart' and was 'driven by Hong Kong’s national security law, which has made it effectively impossible for human rights organisations' to work in the business hub.
4 min read
Amnesty's decision ends more than four decades of the international human rights group's presence in the city [source: Getty]

Amnesty International said Monday it will close its Hong Kong offices because of the threat posed to staff by a national security law that has fronted a sweeping crackdown on dissent in the business hub.

The decision came the same day a court in the Chinese city convicted a former food delivery driver of inciting secession by shouting slogans in the second national security case to come to trial.

China imposed the law last year in response to massive and often violent democracy protests, transforming Hong Kong's political, cultural and legal landscape and introducing mainland-style speech curbs.

Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, chair of Amnesty's board, said the decision to close had been made "with a heavy heart" and was "driven by Hong Kong's national security law".

"(It) has made it effectively impossible for human rights organisations in Hong Kong to work freely and without fear of serious reprisals from the government," she added.

The decision ends more than four decades of the international human rights group's presence in the city.

Amnesty maintains two offices in Hong Kong.

The first is a local branch that focuses on human rights and campaigns in the city itself. Recent reports published by the team have included investigations into how the security law has been deployed and studies of the police's use of force against democracy protesters.

The second office is a regional headquarters that carries out research and advocacy work across East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Amnesty said the local office would close on October 31 while the regional office would move out "by the end of 2021".

Hong Kong dubs itself "Asia's World City" and has long advertised itself as a business-friendly gateway to mainland China with its own separate legal system and speech freedoms unseen on the mainland.

As a result, many international businesses, media groups and non-governmental organisations have used the city as a regional hub.

But sweeping political changes in the last two years have created risks for any organisation that might criticise or disagree with China's government.

The national security law imposed after the 2019 democracy protests covers any offence China considers secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces or terrorism.

More than 70 people, including many of Hong Kong's most prominent democracy activists, have since been charged with security crimes.

On Monday, Ma Chun-man, 31, was found guilty of inciting secession by shouting slogans such as "Hong Kong independence, the only way out" and "Hong Kongers, build our own country".

The city's debut national security trial took place in July when a man was convicted of terrorism and secession after he rode his motorbike into police while flying a protest flag.

But Ma's prosecution was more of a legal weather vane because - much like the vast majority of upcoming national security trials - his offences did not involve a violent act and centred purely on his speech.

He faces up to seven years in jail and will be sentenced at a later date.

The security law also empowers authorities to freeze the assets of any individual or entity marked as a security threat and most of those arrested are denied bail until trial.

Earlier this year, Hong Kong's most outspoken pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily collapsed after its assets were frozen and its top executives were charged.

Dozens of civil society groups have disbanded in recent months in a bid to avoid a national security investigation, often after being labelled "subversive" by China's state-controlled media.

Major tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter have spoken publicly about their concerns about Hong Kong's security law.

Last year, The New York Times cited the law when it announced it was relocating most of its Asia headquarters from Hong Kong to Seoul.