Hong Kong is getting more peaceful now

Amnesty International

Background to the protests: Hong Kong's special status should protect people's rights and freedoms

Hong Kong was a British colony for more than 150 years - part of it, Hong Kong Island, was ceded to Great Britain after a war in 1842. Later, China also leased the rest of Hong Kong to the British for 99 years, which was to revert to China in 1997 at the end of those 99 years.

In the early 1980s, as the end of the 99-year deadline drew near, the UK and China began talks on Hong Kong's future. In 1984 the two states agreed on the principle of “one country, two systems”. In the joint Sino-British declaration, they stipulated that this principle should guarantee Hong Kong its own legal and economic system for a period of 50 years and protect the freedoms of the region. This principle should lay the basis for the time after the People's Republic of China "would resume the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong with effect from July 1, 1997".

In 1997, the Chinese government set up the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (HKSAR) and enacted a kind of “mini-constitution” for Hong Kong with the Basic Law. The Basic Law expanded the principle of "one country, two systems" and stipulated that Hong Kong should enjoy "a high degree of autonomy and executive, legislative and independent judicial power".

The Basic Law provides that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) must protect the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents. These include

  • freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of association, assembly and demonstration,
  • the right and freedom to form and join trade unions,
  • as well as the freedom to participate in academic research, literary and artistic creation and other cultural activities.

Hong Kong protests 2019

  • Activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow speak to the media after Hong Kong's Prime Minister Carrie Lam announced not to withdraw the extradition law. (c) 2019 Stephen J. Boitano
  • The violence in the Hong Kong protests has escalated since June. (c) Jimmy Lam @everydayaphoto
  • After Carrie Lam called the extradition law "dead", the protesters are calling for its final withdrawal. (c) Getty Images
  • Police and demonstrators clash violently, with water cannons and tear gas on one side and Molotov cocktails and stones on the other. (c) AFP / Getty Images
  • Protesters escape tear gas at the police-occupied Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus. (c) AFP via Getty Images

What did the controversial extradition law that fueled the Hong Kong protests mean?

In February 2019, the Hong Kong government announced the planned changes to the extradition law (the "Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill"). The changes in the law would have allowed extradition of people on Hong Kong territory to mainland China and other jurisdictions. The power of the Chinese authorities would have been extended to critics, human rights activists, NGO workers and anyone else in Hong Kong. The change in law would have exposed people in Hong Kong to China's judicial system, which is known for arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment. Submission to the Chinese judicial system would have posed a grave threat to their rights and freedoms for Hong Kong residents. Not only would China lose their right to a fair trial, they would face the threat of forced disappearance and detention without trial.

In addition to the real danger posed by the Chinese judiciary, the change in the law also led to the increasing erosion of Hong Kong's autonomy from mainland China. From March to June 2019, various parties, including foreign governments, publicly voiced their concerns about the proposed legislative changes. The massive real threat and the endangerment of Hong Kong's autonomy from the new extradition law drove protesters onto the streets of Hong Kong from April onwards. People asked their government to withdraw the proposed changes. Initially, the protesters were mainly young people, schoolchildren and students. In an interview with Amnesty researchers, the Hong Kong student “Samuel” * described how fear for Hong Kong's future brought him to the streets: “If we cannot prevent the change in the law, it would be all over. It was a very simple thought - if we can't stop them that day, Hong Kong would be done for. There would be no further movement. "

Why didn't the Hong Kong protests end with the suspension of the extradition law?

On September 4, 2019, the Hong Kong government announced that it would withdraw the extradition law. Why is Hong Kong still protesting? By then, people on the streets of Hong Kong had been subjected to massive police violence for months, which had seriously damaged the people's trust in the government. The problems with the extradition law were evident from the start. But instead of dialogue, the leadership in Hong Kong relied on batons, tear gas, rubber bullets and arbitrary arrests. Their policy was a policy of violence under the influence of Beijing. The protest against the extradition law had therefore long since become a movement against the Hong Kong government, the influence of China and for the protection of the rights and freedoms of the Hong Kong residents.

The demonstrators in Hong Kong also demand that the government withdraw its characterization of the protests as "unrest". They demand an independent investigation into the use of force by the police and the unconditional release of all those arrested in the context of protests. They are demanding political reforms that guarantee genuine universal suffrage - by being able to choose the leadership of Hong Kong themselves - as laid down in the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

More: Hong Kong Students: why we're still protesting

What is the Hong Kong "National Security Law"?

The Chinese National People's Congress passed a resolution on the "introduction and strengthening" of national security measures in Hong Kong, the so-called "national security law", at its annual plenary session in May 2020.

This decision calls for laws against "separatism, overthrowing state power, terrorism and foreign interference" to be passed in Hong Kong. It also enables Chinese security authorities to operate in Hong Kong, which was previously excluded due to Hong Kong's special status.

The decision also calls on the Hong Kong government to strengthen national security mechanisms and institutions, including law enforcement. It also obliges the head of the Hong Kong government to report regularly to the central government on the fulfillment of the tasks of "safeguarding national security and promoting national security education and lawfully prohibiting behavior that endangers national security".

This resolution is not yet law, but it empowers the Chinese Standing Committee of the National People's Congress to pass a corresponding law. This "national security law" would be listed in Appendix III of the Hong Kong Constitution when it was promulgated, meaning that it could come into effect without review by the Hong Kong Legislative Council, effectively bypassing local lawmakers.

China routinely misuses its own security laws as an excuse to target human rights defenders and combat all forms of dissent. It uses the vague and all-encompassing definition of "national security" to restrict freedom of association, freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly. With the national security law for Hong Kong, China is showing that it wants to do the same in Hong Kong, and as soon as possible.

Being charged with a national security crime in China can mean solitary confinement and secret detention without access to lawyers or families. The national security law is therefore an existential threat to the rule of law in Hong Kong and human rights in the city.

Update on June 30, 2020:

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in China has approved the so-called Security Law for Hong Kong. "The passage of the national security law is a painful moment for the people of Hong Kong and represents the greatest human rights threat in the city's recent history," said Joshua Rosenzweig, head of Amnesty International's China team. The law could become a free pass to suppress peaceful critics. It threatens to turn Hong Kong into a kind of police state.

The Security Act gives the Chinese central government and the Hong Kong government the power to set up a "National Security Bureau" in the Special Administrative Region. On the mainland, human rights defenders and those who think differently are systematically monitored, harassed, intimidated, detained under secrecy, tortured and ill-treated by such agencies.

"China enforced these laws quickly and quietly. This increases fears that Beijing has deliberately created a weapon of repression to be used against government critics. It could also be used against people who merely express their opinion or protest peacefully." said Joshua Rosenzweig.

More information on the so-called Hong Kong Security Act

What is the planned national anthem law about?

The proposed national anthem law is another attempt to criminalize peaceful and dissenting opinions in the city. Under this vaguely worded and repressive law, Hong Kong people could face up to three years in prison if they were suspected of having "insulted" or "abused" the Chinese national anthem.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Hong Kong to mark the Legislative Council's debate on the National Anthem Law on May 27, 2020. Hundreds of people were rounded up or arrested. Police were seen firing pepperballs on social media to disperse a protest in the Central District, despite the presence of large numbers of bystanders.

The law provides for a fine of up to HK $ 50,000 (US $ 6,400) and a maximum of three years in prison for "insulting" or "misusing" the Chinese national anthem.

Since 2015, there have been several incidents in which Hong Kong football fans booed or turned away from the Chinese national anthem at games. The new law would criminalize such behavior. “The people of Hong Kong are right to be concerned about this law and they have the right to peacefully protest against it. At a time when Hong Kong freedoms are being seriously undermined by a national security law enforced by China, the national anthem law poses another serious threat to freedom of expression in the city, "said Amnesty International's Deputy Director for East and Southeast Asia, Joshua Rosenzweig.

With the Occupy and Umbrella movements, censorship and repression increased in Hong Kong

A look at the past decade in Hong Kong clearly shows that the extradition law, the national anthem law and the national security law are not sudden, singular events, but a new escalation of years of repression in Hong Kong
represent. "The steady erosion of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong began long before the extradition law was announced," said Joshua Rosenzweig, head of Amnesty International's regional office for East Asia. Especially since the umbrella movement protests in 2014, the authorities in Hong Kong, led by China, have increasingly taken repressive measures. These include cuts in freedom of expression and massive police violence.

In 2014, the protests of Occupy Central and the subsequent umbrella movement put the principle of "one country, two systems" to the test. While the Chinese government declared both the protests by Occupy Central and the umbrella movement illegal, the Hong Kong government was initially reluctant. Even then, the police used excessive force on several occasions and did not protect demonstrators from attacks by counter-demonstrators. But she largely tolerated the peaceful protests for over 11 weeks. After that, the line of the Hong Kong government changed: It had the demonstrations suppressed and heralded a turning point with the arrest, persecution and imprisonment of prominent members of the protest movements. Hong Kong's government took a tougher course. The government increasingly disregarded human rights enshrined in the Hong Kong constitution, in particular the right to freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly. Since then, critics have felt the influence of Beijing more and more. Laws and regulations are being used to harass and prosecute individuals and groups accused of crossing the Beijing "red line". In an interview with Amnesty, Rachel, who joined the Umbrella Movement as a student in 2014, said: “After the Umbrella Movement, many people my age were arrested for simply gathering peacefully to express their views. Once judged, their future is lost. Therefore, I have been reluctant to participate in the protests in recent years. The extradition law protests are now like an explosion of long-standing resentment against the government. "

Why Hong Kong Protests: Censorship and Persecution in the Name of China's "National Security"

The gradual increase in repression since 2014 has been influenced by Beijing's rhetoric of "national security". A vague and comprehensive definition of this "national security" of China is being used with devastating effects against activists and critics in China, and now also in Hong Kong. Activists and journalists were censored, persecuted and harassed. A "red line" to Hong Kong, defined by China's President Xi Jinping in 2017, will serve this purpose, which will include "any attempt to endanger China's sovereignty or security, to question the power of the Chinese government or to use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against it Mainland perform "includes. When Hong Kong's citizens exercise the rights they are entitled to, the Chinese authorities increasingly interpret it in such a way that they are crossing this "red line". The Hong Kong government has adopted this tactic. In doing so, she violates the principles of her international human rights obligations and the Basic Law of Hong Kong. Since 2014, more than 100 people have been prosecuted for peaceful activism (as of September 2019).

For years, the Chinese authorities, together with the Hong Kong leadership, have been dismantling the special status that Hong Kong should enjoy with regard to the protection of human rights.

Joshua Rosenzweig, head of Amnesty International's regional office for East Asia

More on this in the Amnesty report on Beijing's red line in Hong Kong

Police violence continues to escalate

Why more and more people are protesting in Hong Kong is also due to the steadily escalating police violence. The disproportionate crackdown by security forces in the streets of Hong Kong was broadcast live around the world. Batons, tear gas and water cannons were followed by the use of live ammunition against demonstrators. Although the vast majority of demonstrators protested peacefully, the police treated them with disproportionate violence, ill-treatment and even torture.

Amnesty International systematically documented inconsiderate and arbitrary police tactics. People in police custody were brutally beaten and ill-treated. Amnesty has also received evidence of torture. Amnesty officials interviewed nearly two dozen people arrested in Hong Kong. In addition to these interviews, they evaluated supporting evidence as well as testimony from legal counsel, medical staff and other parties involved. Often this abuse was used as a “punishment” for alleged contradiction or uncooperative behavior. One man reported that he was held at a police station in August after his arrest during a protest in the New Territories. After he refused to answer a question when the evidence was taken, several officers took him to an adjoining room. There they beat him up.When he tried to protect himself, the police threatened to break his hands. “I felt someone hit me on the leg with a very hard object. Then one [an officer] turned me around and kneeled on my chest. I felt the pain in my bones and couldn't breathe. I tried to scream, but I couldn't breathe or speak, ”he reported. His case is by no means an isolated one, as research by Amnesty and reports by UN experts clearly show.

Is police violence a response to rioting by violent protesters?

The Hong Kong protest was initially not exclusively but mostly peaceful on the part of the demonstrators. Today, the violence of the police, who use tear gas and live ammunition against demonstrators, is increasingly encountering counter-violence from demonstrators. The violence of the demonstrators appears to increase with the excessive use of force by the police. "The violent police reaction to largely peaceful demonstrations in recent months is the main cause of this escalation," said Man-Kei Tam, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong. When the police occupied the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in November, they used tear gas and water cannons - apparently also to try to prevent people from leaving the premises. The police even took action against medical volunteers and also prevented reporters from leaving the campus.

It is the responsibility of the police to de-escalate. But instead of helping injured protesters, they arrest doctors who are trying to treat the wounded.

Man-Kei Tam, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong

Amnesty calls for an end to violence and independent investigations

Hong Kong people are demonstrating for their right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. The government rules with violence and intimidation. We demand that the rights of the people of Hong Kong must be protected. The government must conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the Hong Kong protests in order to investigate the police violence. The right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly must be respected and guaranteed.

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Why is Hong Kong protesting?
The Hong Kong protests since 2019 over time

June 30, 2020

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in China approves the so-called Hong Kong Security Act. The law could become a free pass to suppress peaceful critics. It threatens to turn Hong Kong into a kind of police state.

May 28, 2020

Despite massive criticism and protests, the controversial security law was approved in Hong Kong. It could lead the authorities to take action against voices critical of the government under the guise of alleged security interests.

January 1, 2020

Hong Kong police revoked their permit to demonstrate three hours after it began after a small group of protesters ransacked a bank. She violently dissolves the protests in Hong Kong and uses tear gas against largely peaceful demonstrators without warning. 287 people are arrested. The media cited police sources as saying that the mass arrest tactic is intended to "deter" protesters.

December 8, 2019

An estimated 800,000 people demonstrate largely peacefully at an approved event. The demonstration shows the great support that the protest movement has in the Hong Kong population even after months.

800,000 HKers took to the street. pic.twitter.com/OjXIpzvQ5R

- Joshua Wong 黃 之 鋒 😷 (@joshuawongcf) December 8, 2019

October, 16th

Jimmy Sham, one of Hong Kong's most prominent activists and organizer of the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), was brutally beaten with iron hammers by a group of men. Amnesty is calling for the security forces to ensure protesters are protected from a proliferation of targeted attacks like this one.

This is a horrific and brutal attack on Jimmy Sham, one of the driving forces behind #HongKong protests.

We're calling for an urgent investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice. Attacks on protesters must not be tolerated. https://t.co/fT8yZyoogo

- Kumi Naidoo (@kuminaidoo) October 17, 2019

4th October 2019

The Hong Kong government introduces a ban on masking, invoking a law from the colonial era. The new mask ban prohibits demonstrators from covering all or part of their faces during the protests.

October 1, 2019

The police shoot at demonstrators. Live ammunition was used in three cases during demonstrations on the day of the Chinese National Day. In one of the three cases, a police officer shot an 18-year-old student in the chest. The teenager is rushed to the hospital in critical condition. Amnesty International is calling for an independent investigation into this incident. Police arrested 269 people, more than any other day since the protests began.

4th September 2019

The Hong Kong government has announced that it will withdraw the extradition law. However, the people's trust in the government and the police has already been so seriously damaged that the protests continue and are now directed against the head of government. The demonstrators are also calling for the police violence to be investigated.

11th August 2019

Some of the worst human rights abuses recorded by Amnesty International occurred that night. Police use excessive force during arrests - beating, kicking and beating protesters with batons, often after they have been handcuffed. Some of the violence is carried out by plainclothes police officers who do not identify themselves before severely beating and arresting demonstrators. Despite the severity of the injuries, police often delayed access to medical care by hours.

Another night of violent arrests in Hong Kong, at least four protesters thrust down to the pavement and hit with batons. Clip from RTHK. # AntiELABpic.twitter.com / eQc2GQMDfr

- Alejandro Alvarez (@aletweetsnews) August 11, 2019

5th August 2019

Hong Kong is paralyzed by a citywide strike. 224 flights will be canceled, important underground lines and roads will be closed. The police fired 800 tear gas cartridges, the demonstrators light large bonfires in front of the police stations.

On the 5th Aug strike in Hong Kong, the police shot tear gases to the protesters from height which could be FATAL and dangerous! They regarded people’s lives as NOTHING! We never forget and never forgive! # hkpolicebrutality # HongKongProtests # StandWithHongKong # antiELAB # chinazipic.twitter.com / jcmFH7uehu

- Lily Cyrus (@ Lilycyrus55) August 24, 2019

July 21, 2019

Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrate in different parts of the city. The police are firing tear gas into the crowd on a massive scale. On the way home, demonstrators are attacked by allegedly pro-Chinese thugs: a large group of people in white T-shirts with wooden sticks, metal pipes and bamboo poles attack demonstrators and commuters in a metro station. At least 45 people were injured in the attack, including a pregnant woman.

June 2019

An estimated one million people are protesting the extradition law in Hong Kong. Police use pepper spray and batons to disperse the crowd. There are riots and violent clashes between demonstrators and police in the Legislative Council complex.

Police use batons and pepper spray to clear demonstrators from Hong Kong’s parliament. The clash followed a massive, peaceful protest march through the city. pic.twitter.com/CB5UgoMZnE

- Radio Free Asia (@RadioFreeAsia) June 9, 2019

April 2019

A series of protests against the proposed extradition law have started on the streets of Hong Kong.

February 2019

The Hong Kong government has announced the controversial amendments to the extradition law (the "Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill").