“Nobody should be subjected to administrative or criminal sanctions for taking part in a peaceful protest, even if the regime governing protests requires an authorisation,” the experts said.
Protests were initially sparked in 2019 as a reaction to proposed legislation, which would have allowed the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China. Those peaceful assemblies developed into protests calling for more democratic participation in public affairs. During the height of the protests, nearly 2 million people took part in peaceful marches.
However, as the standoff between the protesters and the government continued, more and more violent clashes between the police and some individuals were recorded. The UN experts had already expressed their concern in this regard in a press release in September 2019.
The 15 pro-democracy activists were arrested in April and have been charged with various counts of assisting in the organisation of ‘unauthorised’ assemblies or participation in them. Some have also been charged with announcing ‘unauthorised’ marches. Their trial is due to start on 18 May. These charges were brought under the Public Order Ordinance, which establishes an authorisation process for assemblies, contrary to international human rights standards.
“The charges were filed at a time when protests are restricted for COVID-19 prevention. The persons charged are all leading figures in the pro-democracy movement. We fear the chilling effect these arrests aim to have on peaceful protests in Hong Kong,” the experts said.
The UN experts said the authorities are obligated not to criminalise peaceful protesters or prosecute organisers for the acts of violence committed by individual participants. Only individual acts of violence may be subject to prosecution.
Furthermore, authorities should review the Public Order Ordinance in line with international human rights standards. The experts have also noted a pattern of criminalization of peaceful protesters over the past months including when peaceful protests took place in compliance with existing public health regulations.
The UN experts are following the cases closely and are in a dialogue with the relevant authorities.
* The experts: Mr. Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association, Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
Photo credits: Brian Dooley