In an unprecedented move and huge indictment of pro-China policies and the mainland, Amnesty International has announced plans to shutter all of its Hong Kong offices, citing the oppressive ‘national security law’ that Beijing imposed on the city implemented in June 2020.
The foremost international human rights group has had a presence in the city for over four decades. Operations will be moved elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, after the local Hong Kong office will close by this month, and the regional office expected to be shuttered by the end of the year.
An official Amnesty statement specifically called out the effective impossibility for the organization to do its job given the national security law opens up staff members to legal reprisal from the pro-China government.
“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,” Amnesty International’s board chairperson Anjhula Mya Singh Bais said.
The statement further described a dangerous atmosphere where “authorities campaign to rid the city of all dissenting voices.” Thus Amnesty says “It is increasingly difficult for us to keep operating in such an unstable environment.”
Since large-scale anti-China protests gripped the semi-autonomous island-city in 2019 into 2020, Amnesty has cited “a rapid deterioration in the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and association as the Hong Kong authorities increasingly adopted mainland China’s vague and all-encompassing definition of national security.”
This position has been vehemently rejected by China and pro-China HK lawmakers, with the national security law further potentially criminalizing the advancement and online social media promotion of such a stance.
Amnesty has further blasted the ability of China to extradite Hong Kong citizens: “Faced with mass protests, the government first suspended and then in September formally withdrew a proposed Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill (the Extradition Bill), which would have allowed the handover of persons in Hong Kong to mainland China,” a prior public statement said.
When reputable international CSO like @amnesty cannot survive in Hong Kong, it is almost impossible for other smaller CSOs to operate in the city.
The draconian national security law brings much more than chilling effect to Hong Kong. https://t.co/24rs8ZR8RV
— Finn Lau 劉祖廸 (@finnlau_cd) October 25, 2021
Likely the immediate result of Amnesty’s retreat from the city will be for smaller human rights organizations to follow suit. In this way the precedent will create a chilling effect, given that if such an organization which is as well represented by a large group of international lawyers can’t survive there, the smaller ones won’t risk it either.