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Amnesty International to close Hong Kong offices this year

A man walks past the logo of the Amnesty International at its office in Hong Kong on Oct. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

HONG KONG (AP) -- The human rights group Amnesty International said it will close its two offices in Hong Kong this year, becoming the latest non-governmental organization to cease operations amid a crackdown on political dissent in the city.

    The group said its local office in Hong Kong will close this month and its regional office will close by the end of the year, with operations moved to other offices in the Asia-Pacific region, the organization said in a statement Monday.

    "This decision, made with a heavy heart, has been driven by Hong Kong's national security law, which has made it effectively impossible for human rights organizations in Hong Kong to work freely and without fear of serious reprisals from the government," Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, chair of Amnesty International's board, said in a statement.

    Mainland China imposed a sweeping National Security Law in Hong Kong in 2020 following months of massive anti-government protests. The law outlaws secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and foreign collusion to intervene in the city's affairs. More than 120 people, many of them supporters of the city's democracy movement, have been arrested under the law.

    The majority of the city's prominent pro-democracy activists have been arrested for taking part in unauthorized assemblies, and dozens of political organizations and trade unions have ceased operation out of concern for their members' safety under the security law.

    Bais said the recent targeting of local human rights and trade union groups signaled that authorities are intensifying their campaign to rid the city of dissenting voices. "It is increasingly difficult for us to keep operating in such an unstable environment," she said.

    In a June report, Georgetown University's Center for Asian Law said the National Security Law mirrored legislation in mainland China that tightly restricts contacts between local and international non-governmental organizations and threatens activists with imprisonment for allegedly colluding with foreign forces.

    "It's disturbing -- and contrary to international law -- to see Hong Kong's 'national security' law similarly strangle civil society and free speech in the territory," said Sophie Richardson, China director at non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch.

    "The degree of surveillance and the National Security Law's vague prohibitions makes contact between Hong Kong people and those outside the territory potentially subject to prosecution, such that information-sharing is impeded," she said.

    Critics in Hong Kong say the National Security Law erodes freedoms, such as those of expression and assembly, that were promised to the city for 50 years when the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997.

    Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said that under the city's Basic Law, the freedoms of association, assembly and speech are "guaranteed."

    "No organization should be worried about legitimate operations in Hong Kong," said Lam during a regular news conference Tuesday. "But it has to be done in accordance with the law."

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