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UN experts decry Hong Kong security law in ‘open letter’ to China

UN human rights experts have told China a new security law for Hong Kong “infringes on certain fundamental rights” and voiced concerns that it could be used to prosecute political activists in the former British colony.

In a rare joint letter made public on Friday, 48 hours after it was sent to the Chinese government, they also said provisions of the new law appear to undermine the independence of Hong Kong’s judges and lawyers, and the right to freedom of expression.

“This is the first comprehensive UN assessment of the law,” Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN special rapporteur on protecting human rights while countering terrorism, told Reuters.

“It’s the first assessment and legal analysis of whether or not China is in compliance with international human rights obligations. And it’s not, in (our) view,” she said.

Chinese authorities have acknowledged receipt of the letter, she added.

The “open letter” examined the national security law imposed in Hong Kong on June 30, which had already drawn UN criticism before its adoption.

The law allows for anything China views as subversive or secessionist or as terrorism or collusion with foreign forces to be punished with up to life in prison. Authorities in Beijing and the financial centre have said the law is necessary to ensure Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity.

Critics say the legislation further erodes the wide-ranging freedoms promised to Hong Kong on its return to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” agreement.

At that time, China agreed to uphold the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Hong Kong — a landmark treaty that it has signed but has not ratified for the mainland.

“There is an explicit set of higher obligations incumbent on China in Hong Kong in relation to rights like expression, assembly, fair trials that it doesn’t have for obvious reasons in mainland China, but it does for Hong Kong,” Ni Aolain said.