Foreign governments and activists criticize Hong Kong security law verdicts. China defends them

HONG KONG (AP) — The conviction of 14 pro-democracy activists Thursday in Hong Kong drew condemnation from human rights groups and expressions of concern from foreign governments.

China, which authored the 2020 national security law used to prosecute the activists, backed Hong Kong authorities. The former British colony is part of China but has its own governing and judicial system.

In all, 47 people were charged in what was the largest case brought since the promulgation of the national security law. Of those, 31 had earlier pleaded guilty and two others were acquitted on Thursday.


Rep. Chris Smith and Sen. Jeff Merkley, who lead a U.S. congressional panel on China, criticized the Hong Kong government for “bulldozing” the freedoms and rule of law that once made the city so vital. They called on the administration of President Joe Biden to sanction judges and prosecutors responsible for these political prosecutions.

“Let us be clear: The Hong Kong 47 verdicts violate international law and treaty obligations,” their statement wrote.


The conviction “marks a further deterioration of fundamental freedoms and democratic participation in Hong Kong,” the European Union's foreign affairs office said. It added that the defendants “are being penalized for peaceful political activity that should be legitimate in any political system that respects basic democratic principles."

The case calls into question Hong Kong's commitment to openness and pluralism, the cornerstones of the city's attractiveness as an international commercial and financial center, the office said.


Minister for the Indo-Pacific Anne-Marie Trevelyan said the activists were guilty of nothing more than seeking to exercise their right to freedom of speech, of assembly and of political participation, as promised in the Sino-British Joint Declaration. The declaration was an agreement signed by British and Chinese authorities to pave the way for Hong Kong's handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

“Today’s verdict will only further tarnish Hong Kong’s international reputation,” she said. “It sends a message that Hong Kongers can no longer safely and meaningfully participate in peaceful political debate.”

The U.K. called on Hong Kong authorities to end prosecutions under the national security law and release all individuals charged under it.


Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Australia is deeply concerned by the verdicts, including for Australian citizen Gordon Ng.

“We have consistently expressed strong objections to China on the systemic erosion of Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms, and we will continue to do so,” she said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.


Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said the central government firmly supports the law enforcement and judicial authorities of the Hong Kong special administrative region in punishing all kinds of acts that undermine national security. She expressed China's opposition to other countries that “smear and undermine” Hong Kong's rule of law.

“No one should engage in illegal activities and try to escape justice under the pretext of democracy,” she said.


Hong Kong's leader John Lee accused unidentified foreign forces of “slandering” the city's judiciary, the department of justice and law enforcement agencies, accusing them of attempting to interfere with a fair trial. Without identify anyone, he condemned the foreign forces for plotting a scheme that “trampled” on the rule of law.


Sarah Brooks of Amnesty International called the convictions the “most ruthless illustration yet of how Hong Kong’s National Security Law is weaponized to silence dissent.” She said the convictions send a chilling message to anyone who opposes the actions of the government.

Maya Wang, the acting China director at Human Rights Watch, said the conviction shows "utter contempt" for both democratic political processes and the rule of law.

"Democracy is not a crime, regardless of what the Chinese government and its handpicked Hong Kong court may say,” she said.