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Amnesty International closes Hong Kong offices due to security concerns

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Amnesty International announced Monday that it will close its two offices in Hong Kong, citing concerns about national security law from cities.

The human rights group has had a presence in Hong Kong for over 40 years. The mission of the groups has been to raise awareness of human rights issues in the city.

The group said it will close its local office by the end of October and its regional office by the end of the year.

The closure comes at a time when Hong Kong is rapidly changing its political climate under the measure of national security.

Following anti-government protests in Hong Kong in 2019, China enforced national security law for the city. The measure prohibits secession, overthrow, terrorism and cooperation with foreign forces.

The law has dealt a political blow to dissent, with dozens of activists charged under the law. Pro-democracy books have been removed from libraries and schools, with banned political slogans.

The law provides for a life sentence, and since its adoption, dozens of pro-democracy activists have been charged, with at least one prisoner. Some of Hong Kong’s local civic organizations and unions have also been under pressure, with many folding.

Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, chairwoman of Amnesty International’s international board, said in a press release that Hong Kong national security law has made it impossible for human rights organizations to work freely and without fear of government retaliation.

It is increasingly difficult for us to continue to operate in such an unstable environment, statement read.

Presence of amnesty in Asia-Pacific

Amnesty is headquartered in London and boasts 10 million members and supporters worldwide, with operations in more than 70 countries.

The Hong Kong offices have a sister location in Bangkok and the group continues to conduct research and advocacy work in other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

When VOA requested further comment from the Hong Kong office, the response was attributed to Kyle Ward, Amnesty’s Deputy Secretary-General.

The Amnesty International office in Hong Kong is seen following its closure announcement citing the national security law imposed by China, in Hong Kong, China, October 25, 2021.

The Amnesty International office in Hong Kong is seen following its closure announcement citing the national security law imposed by China, in Hong Kong, China, October 25, 2021.

Amnesty International will continue to monitor and respond to the human rights situation in Hong Kong.

We are not cutting any roles or resources dedicated to Hong Kong. The Amnesty Office in Hong Kong is part of the Regional Office for East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and so the work done in Hong Kong will continue as before, from various countries including Bangkok and others in the region.

Effects of security law

Hong Kong space for civic groups has declined rapidly in recent months.

Although many of Hong Kong civil societies and unions have existed for decades, at least 50 civil society groups have disbanded since the security measure came into force last year, Agence France-Press reported.

After 48 years, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union disbanded after facing severe criticism from the Chinese state media and the Hong Kong government, which claimed the union had mixed education with politics.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of China’s Democratic Patriotic Movements, known for hosting Hong Kong’s annual vigil in memory of the 1989 Tiananmen Square bombing in Beijing, voted to disband in September. Its leaders currently face accusations of secession under security policies.

And earlier this month, the Hong Kong Confederations of Trade Unions disbanded due to uncertainty amid the political climate.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has previously denied that there is one blow on civil society.

International reaction

Sari Arho Havren, a Chinese analyst based in Brussels, told VOA that the release of Amnesty International’s offices in Hong Kong is a matter of concern.

The closure of Amnesty International’s regional office in Hong Kong is a disturbing sign of how civil society in Hong Kong is disappearing and only pro-Beijing voices remain allowed. When an organization like Amnesty can no longer function, alarm bells should ring loudly in all democracies, she said.

When a reputable international organization like Amnesty no longer feels safe to operate in Hong Kong without fear of retaliation, how can a smaller, lesser-known NGO feel safe? added Havren.

Eric Yan-ho Lai, a legal and political analyst and associate at Georgetown University School of Law, told VOA that the closure of Amnesty’s office is alarming because of its international status.

“There are more than 50 NGOs, student unions and unions disbanding or closing their offices in Hong Kong, but AI (Amnesty International) is more alarming as it is the first international NGO to declare the closure of its business in Hong Kong.”

“Amnesty International’s decision is a vote of no confidence in the rule of law and the independent judiciary in Hong Kong, in my opinion,” he added.

The analyst praised the impact that Amnesty has made in Hong Kong.

“Amnesty International has done a great deal of work in promoting the protection of human rights in Hong Kong, including the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and LGBTQs. Their removal also means promoting minority rights and non-discrimination in Hong Kong is no longer safe, he added.

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