- The spokesman specified that the UN High Commissioner is also concerned with the interpretation of Article 29 of the new law.
- The law was passed by the National People’s Congress, and its content was hidden from the public until practically its entry into force.
- This week, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended the new law.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed alarm over the many arrests that have been made since Wednesday in Hong Kong courtesy of the controversial new national security law. Hundreds of people have since been arrested in the former British colony since Wednesday.
“We are alarmed that arrests are already being made under the law with immediate effect when there is not full information and understanding of the scope of the offenses,” said the spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville.
“We are in the process of analysing the contents of the new National Security Law that was adopted on Tuesday very carefully in terms of its compliance with the international human rights obligations applicable to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR),” Colville added.
The spokesman specified that the UN High Commissioner is also concerned with the interpretation of Article 29 of the new law, which includes the crime of “conspiracy with a foreign country or foreign elements to put on national security risk.” He opines that that can lead to a restriction of civic space and the ability of civil society to exercise their right to participate in public affairs, in addition to criminalizing human rights defenders and activists.
The UN spokesperson also emphasized that the law must respect human rights, which the text explicitly recognizes, such as the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the right to a fair trial, and other fundamental freedoms.
The law, passed by the National People’s Congress of China (NPC), and whose content was hidden from the public until practically its entry into force, is Beijing’s response to more than a year of protests in Hong Kong. Those protests were initiated to challenge another law that aimed at facilitating extradition of residents of the former British colony to mainland China.
This week, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam intervened by video conference at the UN Human Rights Council session, which is being held in Geneva, and defended this law. She assured those watching that the legislation does not question judicial independence or fundamental freedoms of Hong Kong’s citizens.
The law states that those who commit crimes of secession, subversion of state power (an accusation often used by Beijing against activists and dissidents), terrorist activities and conspiracy with foreign forces to endanger national security will be prosecuted. For these crimes, the legislation includes sentences of ten years to life imprisonment.
The text is very controversial because it violates, according to its critics, the “one country – two systems” principle. This is supposed to guarantee the ancient liberties of the former British colony, which are supposed to remain unique in comparison to other parts of China.
The National Security Law has been criticized by governments like the United States and the United Kingdom. The UK Government announced the granting of residence permits, and eventually citizenship, to about three million inhabitants of Hong Kong.
The decision increased tensions between London and Beijing, which accused China of violating the agreements reached for the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.