Local buses, recycling bins and leaflets are one of Yuan Anita’s main duties as an elected official. She was arrested and imprisoned for violating Hong Kong’s national security law.
Although it sounds ridiculous, this fact sums up the rapid decline in human rights in the city since a legislation was enacted a year ago today.
In the 12 months since the Chinese government implemented the National Security Law, the National Security Law has been used as an excuse to suppress — and eventually obliterate — voices criticizing the Hong Kong or Beijing authorities.
Tiffany Yuen is just one of the victims of the law. A humble local politician with a background in promoting LGBTQI and women’s rights, in February, she bid farewell to her family and friends and was placed in a correctional institution.
She is now staying there and is one of 47 people accused of “conspiring to subvert state power” because they participated in the unofficial “primary election” aimed at narrowing the list of pro-democracy candidates for the 2020 Hong Kong elections. It never happened. After a large-scale four-day hearing, most people were refused bail, one of the defendants passed out due to exhaustion, and the last trace of freedom once proclaimed in Hong Kong seemed to disintegrate with every minute of hardship.
The National Security Law itself makes Yuan’s continued detention possible, which effectively stipulates that suspects should be refused bail unless they can prove that they will not “continue to commit acts endangering national security”.
In other words, they are presumed to be guilty rather than innocent. As a result, people targeted by the National Security Law will face Chinese-style imprisonment—prior to being convicted.
Although Yuan is one of 118 people arrested under the law so far, more people have been intimidated, harassed, and eventually forced to remain silent in an attack that changed the face of Hong Kong society.
Last week, entrepreneur Li Zhiying’s outspoken democratic newspaper, Apple Daily, closed. This was a blatant attack on freedom of the press, symbolizing a broader repression that permeated every pore of the city.
In the past year, students have deleted their social media accounts; restaurants have removed protest posters; thousands of people have made heartbreaking immigration decisions. Many people have the same fear: being seen as a threat to national security and the possible long imprisonment that comes with it.
This is because the arbitrary application of the national security law, coupled with the imprecise definition of its so-called crime, makes no one know how and when they might violate it.
Although illegal acts are roughly divided into four categories-“secession”, “subversion”, “terrorism” and “collusion with foreign forces”-the possibility of breaking the law is almost unlimited.
People were arrested for the content of tweets or slogans on T-shirts and mobile phone stickers. A former opposition lawmaker’s chat with reporters on WhatsApp was cited as evidence against her.
As the space for free speech continues to disappear, teachers have lost their license to promote discussions on topics such as Hong Kong’s independence in the classroom. Books criticizing China and Hong Kong have been withdrawn from public libraries. Children are warned not to express political opinions in school.
With the weakening of the rule of law to protect them, Hong Kong’s opposition voices appealed to the international community for support. Forcing the Chinese authorities to confront such human rights violations in bilateral or multilateral areas (such as the United Nations Human Rights Council) depends on the world leaders of the regional committees.
In one of the most sad moments of the past 12 months, the well-respected former legislator who was sentenced to probation for participating in peaceful protests in 2019 told the court in her mitigation request: “No right is so precious. For Hong Kong people, it is freedom of speech and freedom of peaceful assembly.”
Although the protection of human rights in Hong Kong may be dulled by the National Security Law, the will of its people has not. When the authorities again banned the city’s annual Tiananmen Square repression vigil earlier this month-ostensibly based on COVID-19 reasons-and deployed thousands of police officers to deal with the peace events of the past 30 years, they still A large number of people took to the streets to light candles. People who were killed in Beijing on June 4, 1989. If they don’t remember anymore, who else will remember?
When the “Apple Daily” stared into the abyss, people flocked to newsstands to buy every newspaper as much as possible.
In the face of previously unimaginable government repression, Hong Kong people will adapt and find other ways to express themselves. Tiffany Yuen continued to design flyers for her community during her detention, and she was just one of them.
Amnesty International’s new report on Hong Kong “in the name of national security” is Publish Nowadays.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.