Human rights and freedoms have been greatly stifled in Hong Kong after the enactment of the national security law, with authorities increasingly using safeguarding national security to legitimise politically motivated repression – according to an annual report by Amnesty International Hong Kong.
In its review of Hong Kong's human rights condition last year, the rights group said the security law had given the authorities expansive powers to constrain human rights, with only nominal oversight by the administrative, legislative and judicial systems.
The report said the vaguely defined legislation had allowed arbitrary enforcement, with activists and students increasingly targeted by national security police and authorities – even when no national security charges are laid.
It cited the arrest of People Power's Tam Tak-chi as an example, noting that a national security law judge has been assigned for his sedition case, even though he is not charged under the security law.
"The chilling effect of the NSL on Hong Kong civil society has been rapid and deeply disturbing," the report said, noting that dozens of pro-democracy activists and former lawmakers have fled Hong Kong and at least seven political groups have disbanded.
The rights group also detailed the deterioration in freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and other human rights, saying anti-epidemic measures have been used to restrict freedom of assembly.
Political censorship and institutional pressure on press and academic freedom have been unprecedented, it added, citing the tightening control on public service broadcasting and censorship of education materials in schools.
"While protection of national security is in principle a legitimate ground for the restriction of many human rights, governments should not use national security as an excuse to deny people their human rights as protected by international law and standards," the group stressed.
In response, the Security Bureau said the report is inconsistent with the facts and it opposes the "alarmist" content.
It said authorities have acted according to the law and based on evidence, and their enforcement has nothing to do with people's political backgrounds or stances.