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Group demands release of Hong Kong rights defender

Chow Hang-tung has been 'unjustly detained six times in four months for exercising her freedom of expression'
Chow Hang-tung was one of the vice-chairs of the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance which organized the annual vigil to mark China's Tiananmen massacre of 1989.

Chow Hang-tung was one of the vice-chairs of the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance which organized the annual vigil to mark China's Tiananmen massacre of 1989. (Photo: AFP) 

Published: October 30, 2023 06:53 AM GMT
Updated: October 30, 2023 07:00 AM GMT

Global rights watchdog Civicus Monitor has called on Hong Kong authorities to immediately release human rights lawyer and pro-democracy activist Chow Hang-tung from solitary confinement and end the use of abusive laws stifling freedom of expression.

In a statement on Oct. 30, Civicus said that Chow has been detained unjustly six times in four months for exercising her freedom of expression, which violates international law.

“Under international law, the use of solitary confinement must be exceptional. It must be for the minimum possible time and be subjected to adequate safeguards. The repeated use of it against Chow Hang-tung is unjust,” the statement said.

“The practice exemplifies the relentless and brutal harassment of human rights defenders in Hong Kong, even in prison, and often used as a form of coercion. CIVICUS calls on the Hong Kong authorities to end this practise immediately,” said Rajavelu Karunanithi, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Officer for Asia.

A human rights lawyer, Chow was one of four vice-chairs of the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement of China. The alliance was the main organiser of the annual vigils marking the Tiananmen Massacre of 1989.

She served a 12-month prison sentence for her involvement in the June 2020 Tiananmen vigil, but won an appeal against her 15-month jail sentence for inciting others to participate in the 2021 vigil through her writing.

Chow was also convicted and sentenced to 4.5 months in prison for "not complying with the requirement to provide information" under the draconian National Security Law. She is facing another trial for "inciting subversion of state power” under the same law.   

The latest episode of her solitary confinement began on Oct. 11.  She had previously faced solitary confinement in June, twice in July, once in August and once in September, held seven to 14 days at a time. Solitary confinement cells in Hong Kong prisons measure just seven square meters and can get extremely hot.

In June 2023, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) said that Chow’s detention and deprivation of her rights were in retaliation to the peaceful exercise of fundamental freedoms and that she was specifically targeted by the authorities for expressing her political opinions.

The state of civic space in Hong Kong was downgraded to ‘closed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor in 2023 — the worst rating for a country or territory.

Ongoing challenges to civic space include the draconian National Security Law with vaguely defined provisions that easily become catch-all offenses to prosecute activists and critics.

Further, activists have also been targeted with sedition charges, and press freedom is under severe attack. The freedom of association has also been undermined with dozens of civil society organisations and movements being forced to disband or relocate and ceasing to operate.

“This continuous retaliation against activists like Chow Hang Tung highlights a wider pattern of repression in Hong Kong in recent years, especially using the National Security Law, which goes against international human rights law and standards,” Karunanithi said.

“The authorities must drop all criminal proceedings against Chow Hang Tung and all activists. At the same time, the international community must do more to hold Hong Kong accountable for its attacks on fundamental freedoms,” he added.

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