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[Joint Statement] Hong Kong: Comply with UN Working Group findings to end detention of Chow Hang-Tung

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CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development and (FORUM-ASIA) and Asia Democracy Network (ADN), call on the Hong Kong authorities to immediately comply with recommendations of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) on the case of human rights defender Chow Hang-Tung and to release her immediately and unconditionally.

A year ago, the UN WGAD found the arrest and detention of Chow Hang-Tung arbitrary. Its opinion adopted on 1 May 2023 concluded that Chow Hang-Tung was targeted for her human rights work and that her detention was in contravention of standards prescribed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Hong Kong is a party.

Chow Hang-Tung is a human rights lawyer and pro-democracy activist. She was one of the four vice-chairs of the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement of China (HKA). The HKA was the main organiser of the annual Tiananmen vigils marking the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989.

She was arrested in September 2021 and sentenced to a 12-month jail sentence for her involvement in the June 2020 Tiananmen vigil as well a 15-month jail sentence for “inciting others to participate” in the 2021 vigil, through her writings. Chow was also convicted and sentenced to 4.5 months in prison in March 2023 for “not complying with the requirement to provide information” on the Hong Kong Alliance under the draconian National Security Law (NSL). She is facing another trial for “inciting subversion of state power” under the same law.

One year on, from the issuing of the opinion of the UN WGAD, Hong Kong authorities have ignored its findings and continue to detain and prosecute Chow Hang-Tung on baseless charges. Further, she has repeatedly been held in solitary confinement. We urge the government to drop all charges and put a stop to the repression she is facing.

Among the key findings of the UN WGAD was that the arrest and detention of Chow Hang-Tung was arbitrary, falling within categories I (no legal basis justifying the deprivation of liberty), II (deprivation of liberty is a result from the peaceful exercise of freedoms of expression, assembly and association.), III (there were severe violations of fair trial rights) and V (she has been specifically targeted by the authorities for her political opinion).

The UN WGAD requested the government to take the steps necessary to remedy the situation without delay and to release Chow Hang-Tung immediately and to accord her an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law.

The UN WGAD also called upon the Hong Kong government to revise the provisions of the National Security Law to ensure that they comply with its obligations under articles 9 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It highlighted concerns expressed by the Human Rights Committee in in the Concluding Observation of ICCPR Hong Kong 2022 about the adverse effect of the overly broad interpretation and arbitrary application of the National Security Law and legislation on sedition, and its impact on the exercise of freedom of expression.  Concerns were also raised by the UN WGAD about articles in the NSL which were inconsistent with the right to a fair trial.

Chow Hang-Tung’s case exemplifies the severe situation for civic freedoms in Hong Kong, since the draconian 2020 NSL, came into place. It has been used to prosecute dozens of activists, journalists and critics, while sedition charges have also been used to silence dissent. Warrants have also been issued against exiled pro-democracy activists. The threats are amplified with the adoption of the Safeguarding National Security Ordinance under Article 23 of the Basic Law (commonly referred to as Article 23), a new security law that has ignited widespread concerns over the further erosion of freedoms in the territory, on 19 May 2024 despite criticisms from international community on the lack of transparency and compliance to international human rights standards.

Human rights defenders should not be harassed and intimidated for doing their work and exercising their fundamental freedoms. We urge the Hong Kong government to take immediate steps to implement the recommendations of the UN WGAD without delay.

Hong Kong’s civic space rating was downgraded by the CIVICUS Monitor from ‘repressed’ to ‘closed’ in March 2023.