Beijing has hit out at foreign “interference and malicious slander” after a group of UN human rights experts wrote to express concern that Hong Kong’s new national security law could infringe on certain fundamental freedoms.
In a press conference on Friday, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the central government strongly opposed “the politicisation of human rights issues”.
“Some people have ignored facts, maliciously slandered China’s human rights situation, and publicly politicised human rights issues,” she said.
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“We urge them to truly respect the objectives and principles of the UN Charter, and abandon ignorance, prejudice and double standards. [They must] stop interfering with Hong Kong affairs, and China’s domestic issues through any means.”
Hua was referring to a 14-page letter, which became public on Friday, sent to the Chinese government on September 1 by six special rapporteurs of the UN – including Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, an expert on the protection of freedoms while countering terrorism – and the vice-chair of the UN’s working group on arbitrary detention.
China’s top legislative body imposed the national security law on Hong Kong on June 30 to prohibit acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with external forces.
Full letter to Beijing from UN human rights experts over national security law:
Critics argued the sweeping legislation would deal a heavy blow to Hong Kong’s civil liberties and threaten its status as a hub of international financial activities and academic exchange.
But Beijing and local officials said the law was necessary for the city to restore peace, after it was roiled by months of anti-government protests, sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill in June 2019.
A spokesman for the Hong Kong government also said on Friday that it objected to interference in Beijing and Hong Kong’s internal affairs in any form.
“Every country has laws and duty to safeguard its national security and sovereignty. The national security law is enacted to … maintain prosperity and stability of [Hong Kong]; as well as protect the lawful rights and interests of [the city’s] residents,” the spokesman said.
“The national security Law does not affect the legitimate rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents.”
The human rights experts began their letter by reminding Beijing that under multiple global documents, including the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, Hong Kong was under a duty to ensure that the individual freedoms were protected by law.
But the content and measures adopted in the security law, they said, posed a serious risk to fundamental freedoms.
“We express concern at the broad scope of the crimes defined as secession and subversion; the express curtailment of freedoms of expression … and the interference with the ability of civil society organisations to perform their lawful function.”
They also expressed concern about a provision allowing Beijing to exercise jurisdiction over cases involving special circumstances, as well as how the security law defined terrorism in some instances.
“We caution that terrorist activities included in Article 24 describing damage to physical property – such as sabotage of transport facilities or public services – risk criminalising conduct that goes beyond the Security Council’s definition of terrorist conduct if the damage is not committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily harm,” the letter stated.
Under Article 44 of the national security law, the city’s leader may designate a number of legal professionals as judges to handle cases concerning offences endangering national security.
Those who have made statements deemed to endanger national security, including sitting judges, cannot be designated. Appointed persons who are later found to have made such statements are to be removed.
The UN human rights experts said such provisions “are broad and imprecise and appear to undermine the right to freedom of expression held by the legal profession under [ICCPR],” they wrote.
On the national security law’s provisions that the legislation apply to offences committed by non-residents outside Hong Kong, the UN experts urged Beijing to provide information on how it intended to enforce the extraterritorial jurisdiction.
“We suggest … the appointment of a fully independent reviewer of the application, operation, and compliance of the law with international human rights obligations.”
The rights experts said while they recognised Beijing had a primary responsibility to maintain national security, it must also respect personal security and liberty as an acknowledged fundamental human right.
They asked the Chinese government to explain how the legislation was compatible with its international obligations, and how it might remediate inconsistencies between the law and international human rights standards.
Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s sole delegate to China’s top legislative body, said he did not believe the central government would have any problem doing just that.
“If it’s possible, just explain it to them. International covenants have allowed countries to take action in response to threats against national security and public health. The national security law has mentioned that two important international covenants on rights should be upheld, and the law only deals with four kinds of serious crimes,” he said.