Just hours before the new security law passed by China came into effect in Hong Kong, Hong Kong Human Rights Defenders told me today about their fears for what is about to happen.
“We haven’t even seen the law but the government has said it will be law today sometime,” said one Woman Human Rights Defender. “It’s absurd, although it doesn’t really matter what the text of the law says - it will be made to mean whatever Beijing wants it to mean. It feels like we're counting down our last hours of freedom. People are already reminiscing about the good fight for rights we had.”
dozens of other independent United Nations experts earlier this week to describe our alarm at the repression of fundamental freedoms in China, and our fears that the law will undermine the right to a fair trial, and presage a sharp rise in arbitrary detention and the prosecution of human rights defenders at the behest of Chinese authorities.
Another local Hong Kong Human Rights Defender told me today: “It’s still a shock this has happened. The cold harsh reality has hit me. There was an element of hoping for a last-minute reprieve but it hasn’t happened and it’s hitting hard,” he said. “I feel a great deal of fear and sadness and uncertainty. It really feels like the end of an era of hope, that the dream of being a system within China where we still had rights is over.”
“Now it feels like we’re in a full authoritarian state, and there’s going to be severe chill. I’m already self-censoring what I’m saying publicly. The days of families attending mass protests and holding big banners calling for democracy are over. The prospect of achieving a democratic society looks impossibly far away right now,” he said.
The law comes after a year of large-scale demonstrations across the city calling for political reform and democracy.
“Everyone has to be much more careful now,” said a Human Rights Defender. “We don’t know who they will arrest first - opposition politicians? Journalists? Lawyers? It’s possible there will be mass arrests in the coming days, or that Beijing will take a relatively soft approach and adopt a ‘Nothing To See Here’ strategy for a while. My fear is that Beijing will survive this period of criticism, that the world will move on, and our human rights movement will be relegated to a footnote in history. That’s why it’s vital that the United Nations continues to focus attention on what happens here.”