By the end of 2021, global human rights movement Amnesty International (AI) is scheduled to close down its offices in Hong Kong citing pressure from the national security law enacted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in June 2020.
The decision was announced on Oct. 25, with spokespeople for AI saying they are being forced to leave the city of Hong Kong after 40 years of operations.
AI chairwoman Anjhula Mya Singh Bais said on Oct. 25, “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.”
With a network of 10 million people and operations spanning across more than 70 countries, Amnesty International (AI), based in London, works as a global movement that informs the world of the abuses of human rights and campaigns for more equal treatment of people.
AI’s branch in Hong Kong has functioned to spread the word of issues regarding human rights among the residents of the city, many of whom have provided donations to the organization. The office in the city surveys and performs campaigns and advocacy work across areas like mainland China and many other countries across East and Southeast Asia.
AI has conducted research and has shared its findings on its website, which includes topics about armed conflict, death penalties, unjust arrests and imprisonments, abuses of power, etc.
According to its website, the organization has been funded by individuals from around the world, allowing AI to be free from legal actions and influence from governments and other political, economical and religious actions.
National security law
Under the national security law launched for Hong Kong in June 2020, Beijing has made it increasingly difficult for many organizations like AI to operate without being perceived as a threat to its regime.
The law has worked to effectively shut down all forms of protest and criticism of the CCP and the government of Hong Kong, providing the communist government a way to declare any speech or activity a “national security threat” and suppress dissenters by force. Numerous newspapers, labor unions and other society groups have also been shut down by the law.
The independent news outlet Apple Daily was forced to shut down after several of its executives were arrested in what was described as a “blatant attack” on the paper’s editorial team.
At least 35 human rights groups have been closed down since the law’s enactment, including some of Hong Kong’s most prominent unions and activist groups. Activist Ma Chun-man was also arrested for chanting slogans during rallies to “test the limits of free speech.”
In an interview in April, AI General Secretary Agnes Callamard told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that the possibility of AI leaving Hong Kong was “a source of anguish, a source of pain in fact.” She also said that the organization was taking “far more” steps to operate than it had before the law was enacted.
Earlier, the CCP moved against the organizers of the commemoration of the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. In early October, authorities shut down a physical museum commemorating the massacre and blocked access to a digital museum, commemorating the same, from the Hong Kong public.
“The pattern of raids, arrests and prosecutions against perceived opponents has highlighted how the vagueness of the law can be manipulated to build a case against whomsoever the authorities choose.” Anjhula said.
AI has said in its closing announcement that it would have to close its local office by the end of October, while its regional headquarters has to be shut down by the end of the year. The shutdown of its Hong Kong facilities will force AI to shift its operations to other offices in the Asia-Pacific region.
“Hong Kong has long been an ideal regional base for international civil society organizations, but the recent targeting of local human rights and trade union groups signals an intensification of the authorities’ campaign to rid the city of all dissenting voices. It is increasingly difficult for us to keep operating in such an unstable environment.” Anjhula said.
Reaction to the law
According to Thomas E. Kellogg of Georgetown University’s Center for Asian Law, the CCP has been using the national security law mainly to suppress speech for the past 15 months.
“As the case against Ma shows, prosecutors continue to bring serious charges against people who say things that the government doesn’t like,” Kellogg said.
AI’s deputy secretary general, Kyle Ward, told the SCMP that the decision to leave Hong Kong was due to the disbandment of numerous civil society organizations and arrests of group leaders under the security law, even if AI was not threatened directly by security forces.
“The noose seems to be tightening a bit closer on civil society overall and therefore it behoved us to make a move before we ended up with someone in prison,” Ward said. He also indicated that the operations in the city were becoming “increasingly untenable”, just as the financial services minister declared that charities that are made a “threat to national security” would lose their exemptions to taxes.
The situation also incited fear in some of AI’s workers, who dread the possibility of being arrested by authorities.
Despite the departure of AI from Hong Kong, Callamard assured that it would continue to support the citizens of Hong Kong in the “difficult days ahead.”
A spokesman of the Security Bureau said that the security law “upheld human rights and stipulated the freedoms enjoyed by residents under the Basic Law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights were protected by law,” SCMP reported.
The spokesman also said that the actions against AI were “based on evidence” and were unrelated to its “political stance, background or occupation.”
Several lawyers have expressed their frustrations with the national security law’s effects on organisations like AI, while the European Union even expressed its own concerns over the “rapidly shrinking space for civil society in Hong Kong,” according to Foreign Affairs and Security Policy spokeswoman Nabila Massrali.