Hong Kong: IBA and IBAHRI condemn new wave of arrests under the National Security Law

Friday 15 January 2021

The International Bar Association (IBA) and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemn the use of the National Security Law in Hong Kong to detain pro-democracy activists and questions the legal premise of the accusations levelled against those detained.

IBA President Sternford Moyo commented: ‘The detention of supporters of democracy is a direct suppression of the freedoms outlined in both Hong Kong’s de facto constitution, the Basic Law, and international law, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China has ratified. The reports that all but three of the arrested individuals have been released without charge and have had to surrender their passports is of great concern. The IBA questions the basis for the detentions and the use of law to justify arbitrary arrests. We call for the release of the three detainees and for the Chinese government to chart a new era of deep respect for freedom of expression, human rights and the rule of law.’

On 6 January 2021, a force of 1,000 security officers detained more than 50 individuals, including politicians, scholars, lawyers and students for their involvement in an unofficial and non-binding election primary, organised to select pro-democracy candidates for the postponed 2020 election.

The arrested include the 13 candidates from the primaries, prominent opposition figures, including James To, Lam Cheuk-ting, Claudio Mo and the well-known legal scholar and activist Benny Tai, who was removed from his role as Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong prior to his arrest – a move he alleges was forced on the University by the government. Younger activists Lester Shum, Gwyneth Ho, Tiffany Yuen and Jeffrey Andrews, and the first foreigner to be seized under the National Security Law John Clancey, a human rights lawyer from the United States, were also arrested. Activists Joshua Wong and Tam Tak-chi, already in jail serving prison sentences, were arrested on new allegations. All have been accused of attempting to ‘overthrow’ the government. 

Furthermore, the IBA is concerned by the threat to revoke the practicing licences of lawyers Ren Quanniu and Lu Siwei, who were representing the ‘Hong Kong 12’ – activists arrested whilst allegedly attempting to travel illegally to Taiwan by boat to flee charges against them related to the 2019 Hong Kong protests. Mr Ren and Mr Lu were not allowed to meet with their clients. Instead, the trial of the ‘Hong Kong 12’ took place behind closed doors with State-appointed lawyers, in direct contravention of the accused’s right to a fair trial under international law.

IBA Executive Director Dr Mark Ellis commented: ‘The recent wave of arrests and the lack of fair trial due process demonstrates that the rule of law is being diligently eroded in Hong Kong. Denying Mr Ren and Mr Lu access to their clients violates Article 18 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which states ‘lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes’. This infringement, coupled with intimidation and threats to revoke the licences of practising lawyers carrying out their professional duties, is of great concern. The international community must hold the Chinese authorities to account for these encroachments on fundamental freedoms, call for the repeal of the National Security Law, and the return of respect for the legal profession and civil society in Hong Kong.’

IBAHRI Director Baroness Helena Kennedy QC commented: ‘Assurances were given when the National Security Law was imposed by China that it was not a tool for crushing opposition and that it was to go no further than national security legislation enacted in different jurisdictions worldwide. It has now become clear just how untrue this was, and that its real intention is to undermine the rule of law and the rights of Hong Kong citizens. Not only are the authorities violating the right to peaceful assembly, but also the right of everyone to a fair trial, as well as the right of lawyers to carry out their professional duties, and, by persuading large international banks to freeze the assets of those involved, they are also violating citizens’ rights to livelihood and to simply survive. This has to stop.’

At the time of writing, the Financial Times has reported: ‘Hong Kong internet provider blocks pro-democracy website.


Notes to the Editor

  1. Related material:
  2. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

    The IBA’s administrative office is in London, United Kingdom. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington DC, United States, while the IBA’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme (ICC & ICL) is managed from an office in The Hague, the Netherlands.

    The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
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