Leo Tang © Tsz Yuk Alex Chan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Hong Kong: ‘Sedition’ arrests after clapping in court a new low for human rights

Responding to the arrests of six people in Hong Kong this morning on “sedition” charges after they “caused nuisance” during court hearings, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director Erwin van der Borght said:

“These ludicrous ‘sedition’ charges against six Hongkongers – apparently because they clapped during court hearings – mark yet another new low for human rights in the city.

“The Hong Kong authorities’ grotesquely disproportionate response to a small and peaceful act of defiance shows how they will stop at nothing to root out even the faintest murmurings of dissent.

“These arrests also provide further evidence that Hong Kong’s national security police, who have virtually unchecked investigation powers granted by the city’s national security law, are increasingly involved in handling cases unrelated to national security.

“The Hong Kong police must stop abusing overly broad sedition charges to silence peaceful expression. There is no context in which the act of clapping should be considered a crime.”

Background

Hong Kong national security police today arrested six people on suspicion of “causing nuisance” during different court hearings between December 2021 and January 2022. They are facing charges of “sedition” which carry a two-year prison sentence.

In the hearing of activist Chow Hang-tung on 4 January 2022, several members of the audience were asked to leave the court after they clapped during her speech supporting of victims of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown in Beijing.

Leo Tang King-Wah, one of those arrested, is the former vice-chair of the disbanded Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU). On 31 March 2022, police took him and two other former members of the HKCTU for interrogation after the HKCTU allegedly failed to hand in information demanded by the national security police.

Since 2020, the Hong Kong government has weaponized colonial-era sedition laws to prosecute political activists, journalists and authors.

In July 2021, five speech therapists were arrested and later charged for conspiring to publish “seditious materials” after publishing a series of children’s books.

In December 2021, executives and board members of the defunct media outlet Stand News were arrested for “seditious publications”.

In March 2022, political activist Tam Tak-chi was convicted under sedition charges for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.