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HONG KONG - CHINA: ARBITRARY DETENTION OF PRO-DEMOCRACY ACTIVIST HANG TUNG CHOW

The International League Against Arbitrary Detention urges the Government of Hong Kong, China, to take all the necessary actions to implement the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Opinion No. 30/2023 concerning Hang Tung Chow starting for the Government of Hong Kong, China, to immediately and unconditionally release and to accord her an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations in accordance with international law.


Read the full WGAD Opinion concerning Hang Tung Chow (Hong Kong, China): Opinion No. 30/2023


REPEATEDLY AND ILLEGALLY DETAINED DUE TO HER PRO-DEMOCRACY ADVOCACY 


Ms. Hang Tung Chow, born in 1985, is a citizen of China and a permanent resident of Hong Kong. She is a barrister, pro-democracy activist, and human rights defender. She has prominently supported pro-democracy demonstrations and served as Vice-Chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which annually commemorates the Tiananmen Square events. Ms. Chow has been arrested four times since 2020 due to her pro-democracy activities, especially her involvement in the June 4th vigils, under allegations of inciting unauthorized assembly, under the guise of COVID-19 measures.


On September 8, 2021, Ms. Chow faced arrest again, along with four other Hong Kong Alliance leaders, for allegedly defying a police order demanding information on the organization's staff. This crackdown led to the Alliance's dissolution on September 25, 2021. Subsequently, on December 9, 2021, she was tried and convicted on charges of incitement related to unauthorized assembly based on her advocacy, including two social media posts and an article emphasizing the importance of the June 4 commemorations. Despite the peaceful nature of her calls for commemoration, she was sentenced to 15 months in prison, a decision later repealed. Nonetheless, she remains charged under Article 22 of the National Security Law with incitement to state subversion, awaiting further trial.


The Working Group recalled that pretrial detention should be an exceptional measure and expressed concerns regarding the National Security Law's bail conditions, reaffirming the arbitrary nature of Ms. Chow's detention and treatment. Noting Ms. Chow's social media activity and public speeches as legitimate exercises of free expression and assembly under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Working Group concluded that her arrest and continued detention represent arbitrary actions under Category I.


VIOLATION OF HER RIGHT OF EXPRESSION BASED ON VAGUE NATIONAL SECURITY LAW


The Working Group found Ms. Chow's arrest and detention to be arbitrary, directly resulting from her peaceful exercise of her rights to expression, assembly, and association as protected under international law and expressed particular concerns over Ms. Chow’s incitement charges under the National Security Law. It recalled that the Human Rights Committee, in 2022, pointed out the broad and arbitrary application of the National Security Law which adversely affects freedom of expression. The Working Group highlighted that restrictions on Ms. Chow’s freedoms, under the guise of sedition or national security laws, contravene international standards, especially those outlined in Articles 19 and 21 of the ICCPR regarding freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, hence rendering the deprivation of liberty of Ms. Chow arbitrary under Category II.


DENIAL OF HER RIGHT TO FAIR TRIAL WITH BLATANT EVIDENCE INTERFERENCES


The Working Group identified significant violations of Ms. Chow's fair trial rights, highlighting a concerning alteration of evidence. In a social media post dated May 29, 2021, Ms. Chow announced the cancellation of the Hong Kong Alliance’s June 4 vigil and encouraged public candle lighting. However, a judgment on January 4, 2022, wrongfully accused her of inciting unauthorized assembly, ignoring her exculpatory statements. The judge's removal of these crucial statements constitutes a direct interference with evidence, severely compromising Ms. Chow's right to a fair trial. In light of these actions, the Working Group concluded that Ms. Chow’s right to an independent and impartial tribunal, as enshrined in Article 14(1) of the Covenant, was breached.


Furthermore, the Working Group raised alarms over the National Security Law’s provisions, specifically about Articles 44, 46 and 47 of the National Security Law, that endow excessive powers to the Chief Executive and the Secretary for Justice, undermining fair trial standardsSuch violations directly infringe upon Ms. Chow's liberty, prompting the Working Group to categorize her detention as arbitrary under Category III and urge the Government to align the National Security Law with international human rights obligations.


DISCRIMINATED AND TARGETED  FOR HER POLITICAL OPINION AND HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISM


The Working Group highlighted that Ms. Chow has been discriminated against and specifically targeted by the authorities for her political opinion, in violation of Articles 2(1), 9, and 26 of the Covenant. As a dedicated lawyer and human rights activist deeply involved in the pro-democracy movement, Ms. Chow has faced arrests on multiple occasions. The Working Group echoed the Human Rights Committee’s 2022 observations concerning Hong Kong, China, noting the Committee’s concerns about the harassment of legal professionals like Ms. Chow and urging Government action to protect such lawyers from intimidation and attacks. This call for protection emphasizes the need for security measures for lawyers representing opposition figures, protesters, or those engaged in seeking judicial reviews, to shield them from harassment and intimidation. Given these considerations, the Working Group concluded that Ms. Chow’s arrest and ongoing detention is arbitrary under Category V, due to the discriminatory targeting based on her political activism.


CONCLUSIONS OF THE UN WORKING GROUP AGAINST ARBITRARY DETENTION


In light of the foregoing, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention considered that the detention of Ms. Hang Tung Chow was arbitrary and fell under categories I, II, III and V because her deprivation of liberty was in contravention of articles 2, 9, 14, 19, 21 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 


The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention recommended that the Government of Hong Kong, China, take the necessary steps to remedy the situation of Ms. Hang Tung Chow without delay and bring it into conformity with the relevant international norms, including those set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Considering the case's circumstances, the Working Group recommended Ms. Hang Tung Chow's immediate release and compensation in line with international law. It urged the Government to promptly ensure her unconditional release, revise the National Security Law to align with Articles 9 and 14 of the Covenant, conduct a thorough investigation into her arbitrary detention, and take appropriate measures against those responsible for the violation of her rights.


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