Hong Kong (RAE - China) - Brutal suppression of pro-democracy rallies

The trade unions played an active role in the mass protests against Hong Kong’s Mutual Legal Assistance against Law on Offenders and Criminal Matters (Amendment) Bill 2019, known as the extradition bill. The movement began in June 2019 as a series of demonstrations and rallies to oppose the bill, which would allow the Chinese courts and authorities to extradite anybody from or in Hong Kong, including political critics and opponents, to be tried according to mainland jurisdiction. The rallies attended by people in the millions on 9 and 16 June demanded the permanent withdrawal of the extradition bill, the unconditional release of arrested protestors, the withdrawal by the government of their characterisation of the 12 June mass protests as a “riot”, an independent investigation into police violence and abuse of power, and full universal suffrage.

There was brutal crackdown of the anti-extradition protests as they were broadened to an ongoing movement for democratic reforms and protection of fundamental civil rights and freedoms against escalating police violence after the bill was withdrawn on 4 September. At least 6,943 protesters have been arrested for taking part in unlawful assemblies and rioting. Eighty per cent of these cases are still under investigation to intimidate the arrestees from joining the protests. Unproportionate violence has been used by the police against the protesters including 19 live rounds, 15,972 rounds of tear gas and tens of thousands of rubber bullets, sponge bullets and bean bag rounds in blatant violation of the Police Ordinance and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (AIHK annual report). Protesters were reportedly tortured, sexually abused and their access to lawyers was obstructed during detention. Accountability of the police officers and remedies to redress the curb on fundamental freedoms do not exist under the government-appointed Complaint Against Police Office.

Between June and December 2019, the Hong Kong police used the Public Order Ordinance to object to 47 out of 537 applications for public procession or meetings, in violation of the principle of freedom of peaceful assembly under ICCPR. On 23 August, the Hong Kong Airport Authority (HKAA) obtained an injunction order to ban protests at the airport indefinitely. The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) was barred, due to the objection by HKAA and the company, from staging a rally outside Cathay Pacific’s headquarter office at the airport on 26 August to protest the dismissals of employees associated with the anti-extradition protests. The union had to stage the protest far away from the workplace in Central district on 28 August.

HKCTU actively supported the call for general strikes on 5 August 2019 attended by 3,500 workers and on 3 September to demand the full withdrawal of the extradition bill. Many more took part in the strikes and spontaneous rallies by taking leave, since the Trade Union Ordinance and Employment Ordinance authorises only economic strikes that take place outside the working hours or within the working hours with the consent of the employers. Mandatory reinstatement of unlawfully dismissed workers is effectively compromised by a substitute cash penalty capped at US$9,300 under the Employment (Amendment) (No.2) Ordinance passed in 2018.

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