Amnesty International (AI) announced on Monday it will close its office in Hong Kong by the end of the year.
AI said communist China’s oppressive “national security” law, imposed on Hong Kong to crush the 2019 pro-democracy movement, made shutting down regrettably necessary.
AI chair Anjhula Mya Singh Bais said on Monday:
This decision, made with a heavy heart, has been driven by Hong Kong’s national security law, which has made it effectively impossible for human rights organizations in Hong Kong to work freely and without fear of serious reprisals from the government…
Hong Kong has long been an ideal regional base for international civil society organizations, but the recent targeting of local human rights and trade union groups signals an intensification of the authorities’ campaign to rid the city of all dissenting voices. It is increasingly difficult for us to keep operating in such an unstable environment.
“The pattern of raids, arrests and prosecutions against perceived opponents has highlighted how the vagueness of the law can be manipulated to build a case against whomsoever the authorities choose,” she noted.
AI General Secretary Angles Callamard promised her organization would “continue to stand with the people of Hong Kong” during the “difficult days ahead.” AI said it would move its Hong Kong operations to other Asia-Pacific regional offices.
The Chinese government illegally imposed Hong Kong’s national security law in June 2020 by, bypassing Hong Kong’s legislature and violating the guarantee of autonomy given by Beijing when it took control of the island from the United Kingdom in 1997.
As AI pointed out, the national security law effectively criminalizes all dissent, protest, and criticism of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its puppet government in Hong Kong. It allows the government to deem virtually any speech or activity a “national security threat” and use security forces to suppress it without much legal recourse by the victims. Last week, the customs chief of Hong Kong declared Australian rock lobsters were a “national security threat.”
On Monday, a Hong Kong court convicted activist Ma Chun-man merely because he shouted some provocative slogans at rallies to test the limits of free speech. Ma’s sentencing on November 11 will make it clear exactly what those limits are.
“The government is trying to use the NSL (National Security Law) to stamp out certain forms of speech. This is a core function of the government’s use of the NSL over the past 15 months,” observed Thomas E. Kellogg of Georgetown University’s Center for Asian Law. “As the case against Ma shows, prosecutors continue to bring serious charges against people who say things that the government doesn’t like.”
Of particular concern to groups like Amnesty International, the NSL criminalizes “collusion with foreign powers,” which has proven to include speech that supports international sanctions against the Communist Party for its human rights abuses. Virtually everything a human rights organization says could be deemed “collusion” and punished at the whim of Hong Kong officials.
The BBC on Monday noted that several other human rights non-governmental organizations (NGO), such as the New School for Democracy, previously shut down their Hong Kong operations or relocated to safer venues due to apprehension about the NSL.
“The noose seems to be tightening a bit closer on civil society overall and therefore it behoved us to make a move before we ended up with someone in prison,” AI deputy secretary-general Kyle Ward told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) on Monday.
Ward specifically pointed to a decision last month by Hong Kong’s financial services minister that would strip charities deemed a “threat to national security” of their tax-exempt status. He added that some of AI’s Hong Kong personnel worried about being arrested under the NSL.
Pro-Beijing Hong Kong legislator Holden Chow Ho-ding retorted that AI was outrageously “smearing” the national security law by “unnecessarily closing their branches here.”