A joint statement by the heads of the International Bar Association (IBA), its Human Rights’ Institute (IBAHRI) and other prominent legal leaders says the international legal community is seriously concerned by the arrest of 15 veteran pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong on 18 April.
Those arrested include politicians, opposition party leaders and lawyers such as the democratic politician and legislator, Martin Lee QC who was also involved in the drafting of the Basic Law, the media owner, Jimmy Lai, and the barrister, Dr Margaret Ng. In October of last year, Margaret Ng and Martin Lee were jointly awarded the IBA’s Human Rights Award for their lifelong defence of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
The statement says the arrests are purported to be based on suspicion of organising and taking part in ‘unauthorised assemblies’ on three dates last year, pursuant to the Hong Kong SAR Public Order Ordinance.
“No explanation has been reported for the apparent delay between those protests and the timing of the arrests. The leaders of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement have long argued for their rights to peaceful assembly and protest to be exercised without the need for consent from the authorities,” the statement says.
“The arrests demonstrate the continued assault on the freedom of expression and right to assembly in Hong Kong.
“Indeed, we are gravely concerned that the arrests of senior lawyers and legislators who set out to protect human rights in a non-violent and proportionate manner, and pursuant to both rights granted in both domestic and international legal frameworks, represent an assault on the rule of law itself.”
The signees says they strongly urge the Hong Kong authorities to release immediately the 15 individuals arrested and drop all charges against them.
The statement is signed by:
Horacio Bernardes Neto, President, International Bar Association
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Director, IBAHRI
Amanda Pinto QC, Chair, Bar Council of England & Wales
Schona Jolly QC, Chair, Bar Human Rights Committee of England & Wales
Saman Zia-Zarifi, Secretary General, International Commission of Jurists
The Law Council of Australia has also condemned the arrests.
"The Law Council is deeply concerned that these arrests have taken place well after the 2019 protests in question, and against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. The undermining of the rule of law in Hong Kong, as well as the threats to the human rights and civil liberties of its residents, will not go unnoticed," says its President, Pauline Wright.
And the New Zealand Government has also issue its concerns.
“The arrest of 15 high-profile pro-democracy figures, including members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, is very disappointing”, said Foreign Minister Winston Peters.
“The rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are enshrined in the Basic Law for all people of Hong Kong.”