Nine Hong Kong “Umbrella movement” activists facing trial while pro-independence party banned

Nine Hong Kong “Umbrella movement” activists facing trial while pro-independence party banned
Hong Kong Students Stage A Rally in October 2014 ( (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

On 6th November 2018, China’s human rights record was reviewed at the Human Rights Council where state officials were grilled on a range of issues including China’s treatment of ethnic minorities, in particularly Uighur Muslims and Tibetans. As many as one million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are being kept in extra-judicial detention in the region, according to an estimate recently cited by an independent UN panel.

China also came under scrutiny for other aspects of its dramatic crackdown on civic and religious freedoms since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012. Among issues raised include its 2015 crackdown on more than 200 Chinese human rights lawyers and activists who were detained or questioned in a sweep known as the “709” crackdown.

Ahead of the Universal Periodic Review, civil society groups expressed “deep concern” over the removal of valuable stakeholder information by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). According to them, at least seven submissions were completely removed from consideration from the final document intended for UN member states to draft recommendations for China’s review. Among the reports removed include submissions from Hong Kong political party Demosistō, the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), the World Uyghur Congress, the Uyghur Human Rights Project, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) and the Unrepresented Nations and People's Organisation (UNPO).

Peaceful Assembly

Nine Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders facing trial

Nine leaders of the 2014 Hong Kong pro-democracy protests have been charged with vague and ambiguous offences, each facing a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment. On 19th November 2018, the nine leaders will stand trial, which is expected to last for 20 days.

Three of the protesters facing charges are the co-founders of the Occupy Central campaign: legal scholar Professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting, sociologist Professor Chan Kin-man and retired pastor Reverend Chu Yiu-ming. The other six being prosecuted are student leaders Tommy Cheung Sau-yin and Eason Chung Yiu-wah, lawmakers Tanya Chan and Shiu Ka-chun, and political leaders Raphael Wong Ho-ming and Lee Wing-tat.

The nine protesters face charges related to “public nuisance”, including “conspiracy to commit public nuisance”, “incitement to commit public nuisance” and “incitement to incite public nuisance”. This is based on their peaceful participation in the Umbrella Movement: namely, directing protesters to different streets outside the government headquarters and urging others, through loudspeakers, phone calls and text messages, to join the protests.

The Occupy Central campaign was to advocate for the democratic election of the city’s head of government. It became part of the large-scale pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests, which were carried out in an overwhelmingly peaceful manner over 79 days between September and December 2014.


Hong Kong political party banned

On 24th September 2018, the Hong Kong government issued a ban on the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party. It marks the first time the authorities have prohibited a group using the Societies Ordinance since the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China.

Secretary for Security, John Lee said the Hong Kong National Party’s agenda advocating independence “is in strict contravention to the Basic Law and also against national security” and ordered a prohibition on the party’s operation, citing section 8(2) of the Societies Ordinance. Lee said the party was banned in the interests of national security, public safety, public order, protection of freedom and the rights of others. After the Hong Kong National Party was banned, anyone who is an executive or managing the group could be handed a fine of up to HK$100,000 (12,770 USD) and be jailed for up to three years.

UN experts call for revised “de-extremification” regulation in Xinjiang to be repealed

Due to international outrage about mass internments of Uighur Muslims in China’s western Xinjiang region over the last few months, China moved from denial to justification. According to reports China quietly legalised "vocational skill education training centers" on 10th October 2018 through a revision of the “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Regulation on De-extremification to "carry out anti-extremist ideological education".

In response, on 12th November 2018, UN experts wrote to the Chinese government about the regulation. They expressed concern at the overbroad definition of “extremification”, which “encompasses a wide range of actions whose exercise is guaranteed under international human rights law, in particular the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, the right to freedom of religion or belief, as well as to the rights of ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities".

They also raised concerns about the “re-education centres”, sometimes termed “vocational training centres”, which due to their coercive character, amount to detention centres with no formal charges laid against detainees. They are also not provided access to legal remedies, are denied contact outside the centres, and are held for unspecified periods of time which tantamount to enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention. The UN experts called on the authorities to repeal the regulation.

As documented by human right groups, there has been mass arbitrary detention, torture, and mistreatment, and increasingly pervasive controls on the daily life of Uighurs in Xinjiang. The population of 13 million are being subjected to forced political indoctrination, collective punishment, restrictions on movement and communications, heightened religious restrictions, and mass surveillance in violation of international human rights law.

Police ‘kidnap’ activists across China

On 11th November 2018, a Chinese labour rights group said at least ten of its supporters were detained by police in several cities across the country. The Jasic Workers Solidarity group, which supports workers at welding machinery firm Jasic Technology, said the activists were detained by police on 9th November.

Five were graduates of Peking University. One of the graduates, Zhang Shengye, was “kidnapped” on the school campus, the group alleged in its statement. An eyewitness and Peking University student claimed that more than ten people in dark-coloured clothing beat Zhang before dragging him into a black car. In addition to Zhang, four other Peking University graduates went missing after police raided homes in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, stated the group.

Student-led activism from China’s top universities has surged in recent years, as young college students rally behind labour rights and unions despite pressure from universities and police. The activists have presented a unique problem for China’s ruling Communist party as they describe themselves as fervent Marxists and Maoists, supporting workers’ rights as an extension of their communist ideals.

Patrick Poon, a researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong said:

“It’s ironic to see how the students who have been studying and believing in Marxism are rounded up by the Chinese authorities for supporting workers, the fundamental value of Marxism…the students are simply exercising their freedom of expression and showing their solidarity to the workers. They should be immediately released.”
Outspoken human rights defender at risk

A group of human rights organsations have released a statement calling for Chinese dissident Huang Qi to be "immediately and unconditionally" freed from prison, citing an "immediate threat to his life”.

Huang was arrested in November 2016 for allegedly "leaking state secrets" after he has posted online, citing a document from a local government official indicating plans for a crackdown on his website. The posting was on a server that was situated overseas to prevent government hacking. He is currently being held at the Mianyang Detention Center in southwestern China.

According to the statement, the health of the 55-year-old has deteriorated because he hasn't received adequate medical care for a range of serious illnesses. They added that Huang suffers from a chronic kidney disease that requires daily medication, as well as hydrocephalus and heart disease.

Huang ran a website called 64 Tianwang, which documented forced disappearances, corruption, police brutality and human trafficking. The site is blocked in mainland China.

UN working group calls for release of human rights lawyers

On 12th October 2018 the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention urged Beijing to release three prominent human rights lawyers. They found that "the deprivation of liberty of Wang Quanzhang, Jiang Tianyong and Li Yuhan were in contravention of Articles 9, 10, 11 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, and was arbitrary. The working group also called on the Chinese government to investigate their detention and to take "appropriate measures against those responsible". The working group said it had referred their cases to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Wang Quanzhang has been held incommunicado for the past three years on subversion charges, while rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong was sentenced to two years' imprisonment on subversion charges in November 2017. His family say Jiang has been force-fed unidentified medication and now suffers from memory loss.

Meanwhile, concerns are growing over the health of detained Chinese rights lawyer Li Yuhan, who is suffering from multiple health problems after months of pretrial detention in the northeastern province of Liaoning.


No progress on Yu Wensheng’s case

According to the wife of detained rights human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng, there has been a lack of progress on his case. Police seized lawyer Yu Wensheng outside his Beijing home on 19th January 2018, as he was taking his son to school. Yu was forced into a police vehicle after an altercation between him and at least one officer.

He was formally arrested for "incitement to subvert state power" and "obstruction of officials in the course of their duty" in April 2018. In July 2018, authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu indicted Yu Wensheng for subversion He is being held incommunicado and have been ongoing concerns that he has been mistreated in custody, including by being coerced and perhaps even tortured. Family-hired lawyers and family members of Yu Wensheng have appealed repeatedly to Chinese authorities to release the lawyer on bail, but authorities have not granted their requests.

Yu has represented victims of the Chinese government’s assault on civil liberties, including petitioners, activists, and his fellow rights lawyers.

British journalist barred from Hong Kong

In October 2018, British journalist Victor Mallet was barred from Hong Kong. Mallet, the Financial Times’ Asia news editor, was denied a work visa renewal and given only seven days to wrap up his life in Hong Kong. When he tried to visit Hong Kong as a tourist on 8th November, he was turned away at the airport after nearly four hours of questioning. The government did not give any reason for this.

Many believe that this denial of entry is the consequence of the fact that he hosted a controversial talk in August 2018, at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club by Hong Kong independence advocate Andy Chan Ho-tin, whose Hong Kong National Party was subsequently banned.

The Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA) said it was "shocked and outraged" at the decision not to renew Mallet's visa. The group said in a statement that:

"This is the first time a foreign journalist based in Hong Kong has been denied a work visa, raising questions that the incident was related to Mallet's work at the FCC…freedom of speech and freedom of the press are the cornerstones of Hong Kong's success…This rejection of a journalist's visa application is a further, and very serious, blow to those freedoms."
China deletes around 10,000 social media accounts

In a new crackdown on online freedom, on 14th November 2018, it was reported that China’s Internet watchdog has removed, from the country’s already highly censored web, nearly 10,000 social media accounts in the past three weeks.

The cleanup began on 20th October, the Cyberspace Administration of China said in a statement posted on its official website. The removals follows a similar purge in June 2018 that took down scores of entertainment news media accounts, among others.

More than 9,800 accounts were removed from Chinese social media platforms such WeChat and Weibo, the country’s Twitter equivalent, as well as from its Google-like search engine Baidu. The sweep also included leading private-sector news aggregators Toutiao and Sohu.

Deleted accounts included those of “a popular talk show celebrity, an entertainment blogger who shared film footage, online influencers commenting on social issues, and bloggers writing extensively on ethnicity”.

China has severely ramped up media policing since President Xi Jinping took office in 2012, and is increasingly concerned that airwaves and chatrooms should only be filled with government-friendly, “positive” content. Western social media sites including Google, Facebook, and Twitter are inaccessible in mainland China. Only content that passes strict censorship reviews is ever aired or screened.

New surveillance technology can recognise people from how they walk

Chinese cities are rolling out a “gait recognition” software that identifies people using their silhouettes and how they walk, even if their faces are obscured. Developed by Chinese firm Watrix, the technology can identify a person as far as 50 metres away by analysing how they carry themselves, regardless of whether their back is turned or their face is covered.

While the software isn’t yet capable of detecting people in real time, the company claims it can search an hour’s worth of footage in ten minutes with a 94 percent accuracy rate. In the long run, such technology could supplement facial recognition, which relies on high-resolution images of a person’s face to work properly. It is widely used in China including on public streets, transit stations and airport immigration

Critics cite a lack of debate over privacy rights, and the potential for these technologies to be abused by China’s ruling Communist Party. Sophie Richardson, from Human Rights Watch said:

“States have an obligation to provide their citizens with public security, but not at the expense of fundamental human rights…much of this technology gathers information about people without their knowledge and consent…they have no way of knowing until it’s somehow being used against them. There is no effective way of pushing back against that.”