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27 February 2024

Preliminary Comments on the Consultation Paper for the Basic Law Article 23 Legislation in Hong Kong

Front Line Defenders hereby provides its preliminary comments in response to the consultation paper published by the Security Bureau concerning the Hong Kong government’s legislative proposals for a local law on “safeguarding national security”, under Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law.

Front Line Defenders is guided by its mandate to improve the security and protection of human rights defenders (HRDs) and organisations around the world at risk for their peaceful and legitimate human rights work. We believe, and encourage the Hong Kong government to recognise, the importance of HRDs as a key actor and ally in advancing positive social change. We advocate for legal reforms that are respectful and protective of, rather than harmful to, human rights defenders.

Our monitoring of the use of ill-defined and overbroad “national security”, “public order” and “counter-terrorism/extremism” laws and regulations around the world, including in some of the countries referenced in the consultation paper, has indicated that these legal instruments are often (mis)used to target, intimidate and punish human rights defenders for their peaceful and legitimate activities in defence of human rights.

Front Line Defenders is of the view that the current Hong Kong government appears to have ignored or failed to comprehend clear recommendations and jurisprudence of UN human rights mechanisms concerning the human rights compatibility of national security laws and thus does not appear capable of crafting an Article 23 legislation that would be fully consistent with Hong Kong’s human rights obligations under the Basic Law and international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

If an Article 23 law is crafted in line with the proposals, visions and underlying objectives as outlined in the consultation paper, while the 2020 Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKNSL) is not repealed or significantly reformed to conform to international human rights standards, the foreseeable impact of the entire national security apparatus in Hong Kong on the protection of human rights defender and civic space will be harmful, as already evidenced by the prosecution of human rights defenders and the threats that have resulted in or contributed to the dissolution or disbandment of numerous human rights organisations and civil society entities following the introduction of the HKNSL..

Download the full text of our comments here.