Responding to the arrests of several people in connection with Hong Kong’s District Council elections, which took place on Sunday, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for China, Sarah Brooks, said:
“We have witnessed a clampdown on dissent since the introduction of Hong Kong’s National Security Law that has left many opposition activists in jail or exile. People in Hong Kong and elsewhere have the right to express critical views of government policies, including the revamped electoral system in the city.
“These actions by the authorities appear to infringe on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. All those arrested must be released from detention with the charges against them dropped.
“The Hong Kong government must protect the right to protest. They should respect the rights of Hongkongers to peacefully oppose a system which many view as limiting their right to effectively take part in public affairs, as well as reducing the diverse range of voices included in the policy process.”
Background on recent arrests in Hong Kong
Between 5-10 December, Hong Kong authorities arrested seven individuals – and issued arrest warrants for a further two who are overseas – under Section 27a of the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance (ECICO). They are accused of “inciting another person not to vote, or to cast invalid vote”.
Six of the seven were detained on election day, 10 December. Three are members of the opposition League of Social Democrats, who were on their way to protest outside Chief Executive John Lee’s polling site. The others were targeted for their online expression on social media, including reposting comments from the two people abroad. They all face up to three years in prison and a fine of HK$200,000 (USD 25,000).
Another individual was charged on 9 December on suspicion of “attempting or preparing to do an act with a seditious intention,” reportedly ahead of a planned protest against the elections outside the Registration and Electoral Office.
After the National Security Law was introduced on 30 June 2020, the Chinese central government also imposed changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system the following year. The Hong Kong government then amended the ECICO to restrict free expression around these “patriots only” elections. It was invoked in 2022 to prosecute individuals in Hong Kong protesting over Legislative Council elections. Hong Kong authorities have repeatedly stated that the law also applies extraterritorially.
Sunday’s election, for which 10,000 police officers were deployed, had a record low turnout of 27%. The last District Council election in 2019 before the imposition of the National Security Law resulted in a landslide victory for the pro-democracy camp and a record high turnout of 71%.
Top image: Election flags for a pro-Beijing candidate are being displayed on the polling day of the city’s ”patriots-only” District Council Election, amid crackdowns on democracy by Beijing, in Hong Kong, on December 10, 2023. No candidates from the democratic camps are being allowed to run in the election, while the Hong Kong government is also implementing Chinese-style patriotism education and has forced pro-democracy newspapers such as Apple Daily to close down. Photo by Ceng Shou Yi/NurPhoto via Getty Images.