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Amnesty International to close Hong Kong offices over national security law

A massive sea of umbrellas is seen from above as protesters leave an anti-government rally in Hong Kong's Victoria Park on Sunday. Organizers estimated 1.7 million people turned out for the demonstration. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 25 (UPI) -- After a four-decade presence in Hong Kong, Amnesty International announced Monday that it will be closing its offices there due to a draconian national security law China imposed upon the former British colony in the summer of 2020.

The human rights organization said its local affairs office will close Sunday and its regional research, advocacy and campaigning office will close by the end of the year with their operations to be moved to other locations within the Asia-Pacific region.

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"This decision, made with a heavy heart, has been driven by Hong Kong's national security law, which has made it effectively impossible for human rights organizations in Hong Kong to work freely and without fear of serious reprisals from the government," Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, chair of Amnesty's international board, said in a statement.

The national security law was imposed by Beijing in the end of June 2020, criminalizing with harsh sentences broadly defined acts of secession, sedition, subversion and terrorism.

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At least 150 people have been arrested under the law with the first person sentenced to nine years in prison on one count of incitement to secession and one count of committing terrorist activities in late July.

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The law was put into place following a year of pro-democracy protests that rocked the city, and it has had a chilling effect with dozens of opposition groups disbanding and protest leaders either being arrested or fleeing to foreign nations.

"Hong Kong has long been an ideal regional base for international civil society organizations, but the recent targeting of local human rights and trade union groups signals an intensification of the authorities' campaign to rid the city of all dissenting voices," Bais said. "It is increasingly difficult for us to keep operating in such an unstable environment."

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The organization said during its 40 years in Hong Kong it has worked to protect its human rights, including its successful campaign for the abolition of the death penalty in 1993 and its coverage of the excessive use of force by police during the 2019 mass protests.

Bais said Hong Kong's "environment of repression" and the perpetual uncertainty created by the national security law prevents them from knowing what may lead to criminal charges as it has already been used to target people for signing political songs to discussing human rights issues in classrooms.

"There are difficult days ahead for human rights in Hong Kong but Amnesty International will continue to stand with the people of Hong Kong," said Agnes Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International. "We will fight for their rights to be respected and we will be vigilant in our scrutiny of those who abuse them."

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