Amnesty International, the human rights group, will close its Hong Kong offices after almost 40 years in the city amid concerns for its staff as Beijing cracks down on civil freedoms.
China’s imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong in wake of the 2019 pro-democracy protests has led to mass arrests of opposition politicians and a crushing of dissent.
Amnesty will become one of the first major international non-governmental organisations to pull out of Hong Kong since the security law was announced when it closes its two offices in the city by the end of the year.
The move follows the closure of more than 35 local civil society groups that said they were unable to continue operations in light of threats from law enforcement and pro-Beijing groups.
“Hong Kong’s national security law . . . has made it effectively impossible for human rights organisations 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 on Monday.
The law, which targets secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, was introduced in June 2020 as part of a wider attempt by Beijing to reshape the freewheeling city and bring it in line with the Chinese mainland. Offenders under the law face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
In recent months police have charged members of Hong Kong NGOs using the security laws, including leaders of the group which organised the annual memorial for the 1989 Tiananmen massacre which was held in Victoria Park.
State-backed newspapers and pro-Beijing politicians have also led campaigns against all sorts of civil society groups, including arts organisations, accusing them of being in breach of the law.
Hong Kong was previously a regional base for many global NGOs and media companies. Last year, the New York Times said it would be moving its Asia headquarters to Seoul, South Korea.
The Amnesty office in Hong Kong that managed local membership will close this weekend, while the other which oversaw its Asian research into areas such as China’s crackdown on human rights lawyers, will shut by the end of the year. The organisation did not say where its new Asia office would be based.
“The environment of repression and perpetual uncertainty created by the national security law makes it impossible to know what activities might lead to criminal sanctions,” Bais said.
On Monday, Ma Chun-man, a 31-year-old former food delivery worker, was convicted under the security law for “incitement of secession” for chanting slogans during protests in late 2020 that the court said were “pro-independence”.
The judge said Ma had “every intention to incite others to follow his ideas”. Ma faces up to seven years in jail and will be sentenced on November 11.