Hong Kong sinks to worst rating in new global report on civic freedoms16 March, 2023
- Hong Kong downgraded from ‘repressed’ to ‘closed’
- National Security Law and other restrictive laws used to criminalise dissent
- Civil society groups disbanded and independent media outlets targeted ’
Hong Kong has been downgraded from ‘repressed’ to ‘closed’ in a new report by the CIVICUS Monitor, a global research collaboration that rates and tracks fundamental freedoms in 197 countries and territories. According to the report, People Power Under Attack 2022, the systematic crackdown on dissent following the passage of the draconian National Security Law, the criminalisation of activists for sedition or being involved in peaceful protests, the closure of civil society groups and the assault on the media, led to the downgrade.
‘Closed’ is the worst rating a country or territory can receive by the CIVICUS Monitor. In reality, it means that an atmosphere of fear prevails in Hong Kong, where people are routinely imprisoned for exercising their civic rights of association, free assembly and expression. China, Russia and Iran are also rated closed.
Hong Kong has been a territory of concern for some time; in October 2019 it was added to the CIVICUS Monitor ‘Watchlist’, a collection of countries where there has been a recent and rapid deterioration in civic freedoms. Hong Kong’s persistent failure to address these civic rights violations prompted the downgrade.
The CIVICUS Monitor is particularly concerned about the draconian National Security Law (NSL) which was passed in June 2020. The law punishes four types of activities: secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with “foreign forces” These offences are vaguely defined and have easily become catch-all offences to prosecute activists and critics with heavy penalties. UN experts have expressed concerns that the provisions adopted in the NSL do not conform with Hong Kong’s international human rights obligations. More than 200 individuals have been arrested under the NSL including pro-democracy activists, journalists, opposition candidates, former lawmakers and lawyers. Most of those charged have been denied bail.
There also have been concerns about the increasing use of sedition charges to silence dissent. Individuals have been targeted under the law for publishing books, uttering slogans, displaying posters and even for clapping in court. Press freedom is also under assault in Hong Kong. Independent media outlets have been targeted with raids and forced to close such as Apple Daily, Stand News and Citizen News and journalists have been criminalised. Foreign reporters have also been subjected to new restrictions under the NSL.
“The repressive National Security Law has been systematically deployed to bring trumped-up, politically-motivated charges against activists, journalists and other critics and has created a climate of fear in the territory. Further sedition charges have been increasingly used to silence peaceful expression while there has been a relentless campaign against press freedom. The continuous onslaught on civic freedoms by the Hong Kong authorities has prompted the downgrade,” said Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific Civic Space Researcher for CIVICUS.
The right to peaceful assembly has also come under attack in Hong Kong. The authorities have continued to prosecute and convict peaceful protesters involved in demonstrations, including pro-democracy leaders. They are often charged under the Public Order Ordinance for organising, inciting participation in or participating in an ‘unauthorised assembly’ which carries up to five years in prison. In October 2022 it was reported that almost 3,000 people including 517 minors had been prosecuted for offences linked to the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests.
The right to freedom of association has been undermined by the introduction of the NSL in 2020. While some civil society organisations (CSOs) and movements have ceased to operate, others have relocated to outside the country. Unions have also been forced to disband. The chilling effect of the crackdown on civil society cannot be overstated.
“The sustained crackdown on peaceful assembly and civil society shows why Hong Kong has sunk to the lowest level in the CIVICUS Monitor’s global ratings. The Hong Kong authorities must drop all criminal proceedings against activists, respect the right to peaceful protests and take measures to foster a safe and enabling environment for civil society. At the same time, the international community must do more to hold the Hong Kong accountable for its attack on fundamental freedoms,” added Benedict
“I welcome CIVICUS’ report and entirely agree with the assessment of the deterioration in civic rights in Hong Kong. CIVICUS’ decision to downgrade Hong Kong’s rating is absolutely correct and an accurate reflection of the tragic dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms and the dramatic shrinking of civil society space in the city.” said Ben Rogers, Chief Executive and Co-founder of Hong Kong Watch
This concerning picture in Hong Kong is mirrored across the world; CIVICUS Monitor data shows that year after year, there is significantly less space for people to exercise fundamental freedoms: only three per cent of the world’s population lives in countries rated as ‘open’.
Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor, providing evidence and research that help us target countries where civic freedoms are at risk. The Monitor has posted more than 490 civic space updates in the last year, which are analysed in People Power Under Attack 2022.
Civic freedoms in 197 countries and territories are categorised as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology that combines several sources of data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.
Hong Kong is now rated ‘closed’ on the CIVICUS Monitor. There are 26 other countries or territories that have this rating (see all). Visit Hong Kong’s homepage on the CIVICUS Monitor for more information and check back regularly for the latest updates.
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