The Chinese government’s misleading claim before the UN Human Rights Council :
HK public has expression, assembly and association freedoms

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On January 23rd, the United Nations Human Rights Council will review the human rights situation in China (including Hong Kong). That will be the first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) since the implementation of the Hong Kong National Security Law (NSL) in 2020. In the Chinese authorities’ report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council, the Chinese government claimed that Hong Kong residents continued to enjoy freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. Hong Kong Labour Rights Monitor (HKLRM) found the claim misleading and pointed out that since the promulgation of NSL in 2020, over a hundred trade unions have been forced to disband, trade union leaders have been detained and placed on bounty, and a rally fighting for labour interests was forced to call off. In fact, Hong Kong authorities are increasingly weaponising the NSL to crack down on human rights and trade union rights in the city.

According to the report, Hong Kong citizens have freedom of association, with the number of registered trade unions and trade union federations increasing by 60.7 per cent between the end of 2018 and June 2023. However, it is important to note that the number of trade unions is not the only measure of the level of association freedom Hong Kong residents enjoy. Instead, since the introduction of NSL three years ago, trade unions have suffered increasing political surveillance. Trade unions, for example, are prohibited from engaging in political activities, and new trade unions must pledge not to undermine national interests upon registration. In addition, the Hong Kong Labour Department has also created a new directorate post to oversee the increased work on national security-related issues. At least 12 trade unionists have been arrested, convicted, or placed on a bounty under the NSL, such as the arrest of the former General Secretary of the International Domestic Workers Federation, Elizabeth Tang and the Hong Kong National Security Police’s issuance of a HK$1 million bounty on the HKLRM Executive Director Christopher Mung. Furthermore, Carol Ng, the former Chairperson of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), and Winnie Yu, the former Chairperson of the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance, were charged under the NSL with ‘conspiracy to commit subversion’ for expressing their political opinions and participating in the primaries in a bid to win the 2020 legislative election. Former HKCTU general secretary and the Hong Kong Alliance former chairperson, Lee Cheuk-yan, was sentenced to 20 months’ imprisonment for organising the June 4th Candlelight Vigil and other peaceful rallies in 2020. In September 2019, he was charged with ‘inciting subversion of state power’ under the NSL for his involvement in the Hong Kong Alliance. Lee has been jailed pending another trial after serving his 20-month sentence, while Carol and Winnie have been detained for more than 2.5 years before their sentencing in court. According to Hong Kong Labour Department figures, over 175 trade unions were disbanded from 2020 to 2022. After organisers were harassed, the Labour Day rally was forced to be cancelled in 2023.

In July last year, HKLRM submitted a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, making recommendations such as repealing the Hong Kong National Security Law, dropping all charges against trade union organisers and ensuring that trade unions, civil society organisations and their members can carry out their legitimate functions and exercise their rights as guaranteed by international human rights instruments in a fear-free environment.