The Hong Kong government responded to Amnesty International in a letter on 20 September 2019. The text of the letter is below.
Dear Mr Rosenzweig,
I refer to your letter dated 6 September 2019 to the Chief Executive entitled “Freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly”, and am authorised to reply on her behalf.
Freedom and the rule of law are the core values of Hong Kong and the cornerstone of our long-term prosperity and stability. These core values are firmly anchored in the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance and other legislation. The HKSAR Government attaches great importance to them and is very determined to safeguard them. Since the return to the Motherland, the HKSAR has been exercising “Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong” and a high degree of autonomy in strict accordance with the Basic Law. The “one country, two systems” principle has been fully and successfully implemented.
In an attempt to substantiate your unfounded allegation that autonomy and human rights protection in Hong Kong are being eroded, you have cited concerns on “increasingly unwarranted restrictions on the rights to peaceful assembly and free expression”, “lack of police accountability for unnecessary and excessive force”, and “politically motivated prosecution”. I would like to address these unfounded allegations as follows.
The freedoms of assembly, of procession and of demonstration are protected under Article 27 of the Basic Law. In 2018, 11 880 public meetings and public processions took place in Hong Kong, a ten-fold increase from 1997. Article 17 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, which corresponds to Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), states that the right of peaceful assembly may be restricted in the interests of national security, public safety, public order (ordre public) or the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
The provisions in the Public Order Ordinance (POO) relating to the regulation of public meetings and public processions reflect a proper balance between protecting the individual’s right to freedom of expression and right of peaceful assembly, and the broader interests of the community at large. The POO does not impose a requirement of police permission, but simply imposes a notification requirement in respect of most public processions of over 30 persons. The only grounds on which conditions can be imposed, or an assembly prohibited, is if the Commissioner of Police reasonably considers this to be necessary in the interests of national security, public safety, public order or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. Any person who is aggrieved by the Police’s decision may appeal to an independent Appeal Board on Public Meetings and Processions, which will determine the appeal impartially. The decisions of the Appeal Board are subject to judicial review. There is thus no “unwarranted” restriction on the right to peaceful assembly as alleged in your report.
The Police will facilitate the conduct of peaceful and lawful public meetings or public processions. However, if protestors resort to violence, the Police will have no choice but, if there is no other means and after giving warnings where circumstances permit, to use minimum force as appropriate in order to prevent injury to life and property. The Police have established clear guidelines on the use of force which are consistent with the international human rights norms and standards. The “Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials” adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders also states that “[law enforcement officials] may use force and firearms only if other means remain ineffective or without any promise of achieving the intended result”.
On police accountability, the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), an independent statutory body, is responsible for observing, monitoring and reviewing the handling and investigation of complaints against the Police in an independent, impartial and thorough manner. In 2017-18, the IPCC received and endorsed over 1 600 reportable complaints against the Police. This mechanism has been effective.
Your report mentions a series of protests in Hong Kong since June 2019. The IPCC is now undertaking a fact-finding study on the handling of large-scale public order events that took place after 9 June 2019. The study aims to ascertain the facts, assess Police’s handling of protests, and make recommendations to the HKSAR Government. The IPCC has established a panel of international experts to assist in its work and will make its findings and recommendations public. The panel is headed by Sir Denis O’Connor, who served as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary in 2008-2012 and has been an Affiliated Lecturer at the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom (UK) since 2012. The Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO) has also set up a dedicated team to handle complaints in relation to the events. To ensure that the cases are handled fairly and impartially, all members of the team did not participate in the relevant operations concerning the events. It is thus unfair to portray in your report that there is a lack of police accountability. One should also refrain from jumping to any conclusions before all the facts have been verified.
On the rule of law, Hong Kong ranks first in Asia in terms of judicial independence and there is absolutely no politically motivated prosecution. The Department of Justice (DoJ) of the HKSAR makes prosecutorial decisions free from any interference, solely based on evidence, the applicable laws and the Prosecution Code. Unless there is sufficient admissible evidence to support a reasonable prospect of conviction, no prosecution should be commenced. If there is sufficient evidence to initiate a prosecution, the DoJ will then consider whether it is in the public interest to do so. Any person suspected of breaking the law, including when acts of violence or vandalism are involved, the decision on prosecution and related charges will be made in accordance with the above principles and there is no political consideration.
Your report mentioned “Hong Kong’s independence”. The Basic Law stipulates that the HKSAR is an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Advocating for “Hong Kong’s independence” is a blatant violation of the Basic Law and a direct affront to the national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of the PRC. “Hong Kong’s independence” runs counter to the “one country, two systems” principle and undermines the HKSAR’s constitutional and legal foundations as enshrined in the Basic Law.
With regard to the prohibition of the operation of the Hong Kong National Party and a visa application case quoted in your report, the HKSAR Government has been handling these issues strictly in accordance with the laws of Hong Kong. On elections, the HKSAR Government has a duty to implement and uphold the Basic Law and to ensure that all elections will be conducted in accordance with the Basic Law and relevant electoral laws.
The allegation in your report that “[t]he Hong Kong government […] has been increasingly restricting the rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of association […]” is groundless. Human rights and freedom in Hong Kong are fully protected by law and safeguarded by the HKSAR Government in a robust manner.
for Private Secretary to Chief Executive