Hong Kong’s new security laws: a crushing blow to freedom
28 maart 2024

Hong Kong’s new security laws: a crushing blow to freedom


The recent enactment of draconian security laws in Hong Kong has sent shockwaves throughout the international community. Human rights organisations and the United Nations have vehemently condemned these laws, recognising them as a serious erosion of the freedoms once promised to the people of Hong Kong.

Following the enactment of Hong Kong’s National Security Law (NSL) in 2020, a further curtailment on human rights law was introduced on 19 March 2024, when a new Article 23 was added to Hong Kong’s Basic Law – the city’s constitution. Under the new Article 23, authorities are given extensive powers, including the ability to hold closed-door trials and detain suspects for up to 16 days without a charge. The penalties, including life imprisonment, are disproportionately harsh for offences vaguely defined as treason. This legislation effectively criminalises dissent and undermines due process and fair trial rights.  

The international outcry has been strong. Leaders from various countries have expressed grave concern, emphasising the detrimental impact on Hong Kong’s status as an open international city. The United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom have all criticised the vague provisions and the deterioration of the freedom of expression. Despite these protests, Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leadership remains steadfast in its support for these laws, claiming they are necessary for stability and to combat perceived external interference. However, these claims ring hollow in the face of overwhelming evidence of rights abuses and the suppression of dissent.  

As the past decade in Mainland China has shown, there is a genuine fear that such measures will in time lead to the fundamental erosion of freedoms and rights, and undermine the position of human rights lawyers, ultimately leading to effectively criminalising the profession. Since the introduction of the NSL in 2020, Hong Kong is following a similar path. Prominent lawyers have been detained for their human rights work based on a range of national security crimes. Other human rights lawyers have fled Hong Kong fearing the impact of the NSL on their work and potential repercussions. This further curtailment of freedoms and the vague criminalisation under Article 23 will increase these fears. There is not only a very real fear that “suspects” will be detained on vague suspicions, but also that their lawyers will be identified with their clients and thus eventually be prosecuted themselves.  

In other words, the fears and concerns expressed by Hong Kong lawyers and other international organisations about this new Article 23 are more than justified and are to be taken seriously. Lawyers for Lawyers will continue to monitor the situation of Hong Kong lawyers closely. 

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