GENEVA (9 October 2023) – UN experts* today expressed serious concern about the first mass trial of 47 people underway since February 2023 under the National Security Legislation (NSL) of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) and the issuance of arrest warrants and bounties against pro-democracy figures from the Hong Kong SAR currently in exile overseas.

Reports indicate that Hong Kong SAR authorities have made at least 100 arrests under the NSL since it became law on 1 July 2020. Defendants in the first NSL trial include former elected legislators, activists, social workers, academics, trade unionists, and journalists who organised and stood for election in unofficial primaries in July 2020. The trial is expected to last until the end of 2023.

“We have expressed our concerns about the NSL to China in the past. We are very troubled about the use of mass trials in NSL cases and how they may negatively affect safeguards that ensure due process and the right to fair trial,” the experts said.

On 3 July 2023, Hong Kong authorities issued arrest warrants against eight Hong Kong SAR human rights defenders in self-exile, based in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The accused include former lawmakers Dennis Kwok and Ted Hui, lawyer and scholar Kevin Yam, unionist Mung Siu-tat, and pro-democracy activists Nathan Law, Anna Kwok and Finn Lau. All are accused of violating the NSL while in exile.

“The charges appear to seek to punish statements allegedly made by each individual criticising the Chinese government’s policies and their activities in support of democracy in Hong Kong,” the experts said.

Furthermore, the Hong Kong SAR police have placed a bounty upon the heads of the eight accused, with a reward of HK$1m each for information leading to their arrest. Their assets will be frozen and authorities have also threatened that those supporting them financially will be in violation of the law. Disbarment proceedings have commenced against Dennis Kwok and Kevin Yam.

“The complaints of professional misconduct against barrister Dennis Kwok and lawyer Kevin Yam appear to be aimed at preventing them from exercising their profession without intimidation, hindrance, harassment, or improper interference,” the experts said.

“China should review its National Security Law to ensure that the law is in compliance with China’s international human rights obligations with respect to the Hong Kong SAR,” they said.

“We recommend improving access to legal aid in the Hong Kong SAR and urge China to consider reviewing the recent amendments to the Legal Ordinance bill,” the experts said. “We stand ready to engage in dialogue with Chinese authorities on this very important matter.”

The Special Rapporteurs have been in contact with the Government of China regarding this issue.

*The experts: Margaret SatterthwaiteSpecial Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Clément Nyaletsossi VouleSpecial Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression