Report claims authorities have taken a hard line against protesters and activists in the city over the past year

Amnesty International said on Thursday that freedom of expression is in danger in Hong Kong and it cautioned against any restrictive law that makes insulting police officers a criminal offence.

The Hong Kong chapter of the rights watchdog in its annual report said the right to peaceful assembly took a hit last year as authorities adopted a hard line against pro-democracy campaigners.

The group said one example is the prosecution of leaders of the 2014 Occupy movement, three years after the mass protests, as well as the Department of Justice’s decision to seek harsher sentences for activists like Joshua Wong.

The group’s director, Mabel Au, also criticised prosecutors for using what she described as “vague” offences, such as “causing public nuisance”, against Occupy leaders, saying this may deter others from voicing their opinions.

The report also pointed out that the UN’s Human Rights Committee had twice raised concerns about the “illegal assembly” charge.

Amnesty International’s East Asia Research Director, Roseann Rife, was also wary of Hong Kong making it a criminal offence to insult police officers.

“Free speech should never be criminalised. The only restrictions that can be placed on it is if it’s inciting violence or if it affects public order,” she said.

“And you have to be very careful that any reaction to something that bothers public order has to be very clear in law and has to be proportional.”

The report also noted that the Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s comment that mainland laws now apply to the detained Causeway booksellers was seen by experts as the “shunning of any of the government’s legal responsibility to protect Hong Kong residents”.

Au said though during her election campaign Lam spoke about healing the rift, the prosecution of opposition activists have continued.


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