HONG KONG (Reuters) -Amnesty International said on Wednesday that Hong Kong authorities have used a new national security law to target dissent and justify “censorship, harassment, arrests and prosecutions that violate human rights” in the year since it was implemented.
Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law in June last year that sets out punishment for anything it deems as subversion, secession, colluding with foreign forces and terrorism with up to life in prison, setting the city on a more authoritarian path.
Authorities have said the law would affect an “extremely small minority” of people and that it had restored stability after months of often-violent protests in 2019. They have said rights and freedoms in the former British colony remain protected but they are not absolute.
Most high-profile democratic politicians and activists have been arrested under the new law or for protest-related charges, or are in self-exile.
“In one year, the National Security Law has put Hong Kong on a rapid path to becoming a police state and created a human rights emergency for the people living there,” said Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra.
“Ultimately, this sweeping and repressive legislation threatens to make the city a human rights wasteland increasingly resembling mainland China.”
China foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular news conference that Amnesty’s statements were “purely malicious slander”.
The Hong Kong government, in a statement late on Wednesday, said it strongly objected to “the grossly misleading and incorrect remarks by some individuals, organisations and countries upon the anniversary of the Law”.
It did not name those it referred to.
“We must reiterate, for the record, that any law enforcement actions … are based on evidence, strictly according to the law, for the acts of the persons or entities concerned, and have nothing to do with their political stance, background or occupation,” the statement said.
In its 47-page report, the international human rights group cited analysis of court judgments, court hearing notes and interviews with activists, concluding the legislation has been used “to carry out a wide range of human rights violations”.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of a high degree of autonomy from Beijing and that wide-ranging rights and freedoms would be protected for at least 50 years.
Mishra said the law “has infected every part of Hong Kong society and fomented a climate of fear that forces residents to think twice about what they say, what they tweet and how they live their lives”.
More than 100 people were arrested and more than 60 charged in the first year under the security law, according to a tally by Reuters.
“Hong Kong’s NSL has been used as a false pretext to curb dissent,” the rights group said.
(Reporting by Pak Yiu; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Marius Zaharia, Robert Birsel and Jonathan Oatis)