Hong Kong human rights lawyers may face prosecution under the new national security law, according to a report published by Human Rights First and the University of Hong Kong.
The report, titled New Law, New Threat, is based on interviews with lawyers and law academics conducted in 2020. It documents increased attacks on human rights lawyers in Hong Kong since the beginning of anti-government protests in June last year.
Lawyers said they worried that the harassment would become worse after the new law comes into force. They added that they may be prosecuted for carrying out their duty, a risk commonly faced by human rights lawyers in mainland China.
“Lawyers fear the new security law will mean that being a human rights lawyer in Hong Kong is about to become as dangerous as it is in mainland China,” said Brian Doooley of Human Rights First, an organization based in the United States.
Such worry is reflected in an interview with Wilson Leung of the Hong Kong Progressive Lawyers Group. Leung is particularly concerned about the vague nature of the law, which has been used to target human rights lawyers in mainland China.
“We’ve seen that China’s security laws are so elastic [that] they can be stretched to mean whatever the government wants ‘terrorism’ or ‘security’ to mean,” he said, adding that authorities could then “use the law to target lawyers and other civil society leaders.”
Attacks documented in the report were mostly online but there were also physical incidents. Lawyer Albert Ho — former chairman of the Democratic Party in Hong Kong — was ambushed and beaten by three masked men with canes as he walked home.
Another lawyer received 20 letters at his office, alleging that he owed money. The missives threatened an escalation of actions and the letters were also sent to his friends and several courts. The lawyer also received a letter covered in saliva that the sender claimed was a “sample of COVID-19.”
Michael Vidler, whose firm represents a teenager claiming to have been gang-raped in a police station, said he now worked on the assumption that Hong Kong lawyers might be the subjects of surveillance.
Sophisticated security technology is currently being used to communicate with clients involved in politically sensitive cases while personal data is documented with pen and paper to avoid the risk of computer hacking, he said.