Lee: Will Hong Kong Be Tiananmen 2.0?

Yanghee Lee in Project Syndicate:

SEOUL – Hong Kong is on a knife’s edge. Once one of Asia’s freest and most open cities, it now faces the specter of a new China-imposed security law that would curtail its people’s liberties and create a climate of fear. The law is in flagrant breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which is registered at the United Nations, and would open the way for widespread human-rights violations. The UN cannot let this stand.

Moreover, in February, four UN human-rights experts wrote to the Chinese government detailing evidence of harassment, intimidation, and detention of health-care workers during the protests. According to the report, “large numbers” of such workers were arrested and “hand-cuffed with zip-cords.” Even after providing identification, they were arrested for “taking part in a riot” and detained for 24 hours with no access to legal counsel, before being released on bail, pending charges. The report also highlighted “the misuse of health-care transport, facilities, and confidential information.”

The Hong Kong authorities – and the Chinese rulers who back them – have not backed down. In April, they arrested 15 of the city’s most respected pro-democracy leaders, including the “father” of the movement, the 82-year-old barrister Martin Lee. And in late May, China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, approved – by a 2,878-1 vote – the new security law for Hong Kong.

While the details of the new law have not been announced, it is known to contain provisions barring “subversion,” “secession,” or “collusion with foreign political forces” – vaguely defined crimes that offer China’s rulers legal cover to crack down on any form of dissent. For example, Hong Kong citizens who brief foreign parliamentarians, human-rights groups, or journalists could be deemed to be committing a crime. The law would also allow China’s government to set up “security organs” in Hong Kong.

Both the Hong Kong Bar Association and the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales warn that the security law would severely undermine fundamental rights, including freedom of expression, assembly, association, and religion or belief. As nearly 900 international leaders – from former prime ministers to prominent legal and human-rights experts – noted in a joint declaration, the law amounts to a “comprehensive assault” on Hong Kong’s “autonomy, rule of law, and fundamental freedoms” and a “flagrant breach” of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

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