UN watchdog says Hong Kong must repeal security law

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A UN watchdog voiced alarm Wednesday at deteriorating rights in Hong Kong, especially calling on the Chinese territory to repeal the sweeping National Security Law imposed by Beijing two years ago.

The UN Human Rights Committee, made up of 18 independent experts, said it was “deeply concerned about the overly broad interpretation of and arbitrary application of the law.”

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It said that the law had reportedly led to “the arrests of over 200 persons since its enactment in 2020, including 12 children, on grounds of endangering national security.”

The committee, which oversees respect for global rules on civil and political rights, said Hong Kong should “take concrete steps to repeal the current national security law and, in the meantime, refrain from applying the law.”

The 2020 security law, imposed amid a sweeping crackdown after pro-democracy protests engulfed the city, criminalized subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Since the law took effect, opposition has been quashed and most leading democracy figures have fled the country, been disqualified from office or jailed.

In its fourth regular review of Hong Kong, long a semi-autonomous territory that earlier this month marked the 25th anniversary of its handover from Britain, the committee lamented that the security law had been enacted “without consultation with public and civil society” in the city.

It warned that the security law’s “lack of clarity” made it difficult to determine what behaviors and conduct constituted a criminal offence.

It also decried that the law resuscitated sedition as an offence for the first time in decades, pointing to how it was used to charge academics, journalists and others “for having exercised their legitimate right to freedom of speech.”

“The Committee is concerned about the adverse effect of the overly broad interpretation and arbitrary application of the national security law and sedition legislation, and its impact on the exercise of freedom of expression,” it said.

The committee lamented that national security cases were transferred to Chinese jurisdiction, as well as “the excessive power” afforded to Hong Kong's chief executive under the law.

This, it warned, “can effectively undermine the independence of judiciary and procedural safeguards for access to justice and right to a fair trial.”

Once the law has been repealed, the committee called for the legislative process around enacting any new national security law to be “inclusive and transparent, facilitating the free, open and meaningful participation of civil society and the public.”

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