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Hong Kong Reaches a Grim Milestone: 1,000 Political Prisoners

a report by Hong Kong Democracy Council

Political Prisoners as of November 30, 2022

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There are now 1,014 political prisoners in Hong Kong. At the start of the mass protests on June 9, 2019, there were only a handful. This exponential increase has occurred in a little under three years.
 

Hong Kong has one of fastest growing populations of political prisoners in the world, rivaling Belarus, Burma and Cuba, other societies where authoritarian governments have recently cracked down on protest movements.
 

The large number of political prisoners is a key indicator of the deterioration of the rule of law, judicial independence, and protections of civil and political liberties, marking Hong Kong’s rapid descent into authoritarianism. 
 

In few places in the world has the state of human rights deteriorated so rapidly as in Hong Kong over the past three years, with the rights to freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of expression, and political participation all indefintely suspended, unreasonably restricted or abolished.

  1. Among the 1,014 political prisoners are leaders of non-governmental organizations and trade unions, journalists, activists, teachers, professors, students, opposition politicians, protest leaders and lawyers—a virtual cross-section of Hong Kong civil society. While many of the political prisoners are well-known, most are ordinary Hong Kong citizens who had no public profile prior to their arrests. 
     

  2. Young people have been disproportionately targeted. More than three-fourths of Hong Kong’s political prisoners are under the age of 30, more than half under 25, and more than 15 percent are minors.
     

  3. Remand has risen as a means of keeping political opponents in long-term pre-trial detention. Largely due to the imposition of the “national security law” in June 2020, the number of political detainees remanded in custody has increased to a record high of 179 today. Sixty-nine political prisoners have been languishing on remand for more than one year, and the average time on remand is currently 12.4 months. 
     

  4. With the trials of 1,159 political defendants on-going, the current number of 1,014 political prisoners is almost certain to increase substantially. Most of the trials yet to conclude are for riot, national security law crimes, and sedition.

  • At least 10,501 political arrests have been made.

  • 2,974 political defendants have been prosecuted. 

  • In the 1,815 trials that have concluded, the conviction rate is 67 percent. 

  • Of those sentenced to prison, the overall length of their prison sentences is 772 years.

  • 214 people have been sentenced to at least one year in prison.

  • The average prison sentence is 1.6 years.

  • The offense for which by far the highest number of political defendants—234—has been imprisoned is unlawful assembly.

  • 59 people have been imprisoned for possession of a laser pointer, the “weapon” which has led to by far the highest number of prison sentences for “possession of offensive weapons.”

  • 169 of the political prisoners are young people who have been sentenced to juvenile detention.

  • 110 minors have been sentenced to an average of 26.9 months in prison.

  • 11 minors ranging from 15 to 17 years old are remanded in custody, 5 of whom since 2019. 

  • Of those who have been imprisoned, the average length of time from arrest to sentence is 515 days, but hundreds charged with riot have now waited for nearly three years.

Overall, the situation in Hong Kong constitutes a grave human rights crisis to which the rest of the world must respond more actively than it has up to now. In particular, Hong Kong Democracy Council calls on
 

  1. the United States government to sanction designated national security law judges and members of the Committee for Safeguarding National Security; 

  2. the United States government to expedite the creation of humanitarian pathways for politically persecuted Hong Kongers; 

  3. all ten of the remaining Overseas Non-Permanent Judges on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal to resign;

  4. The United Nations Human Rights Committee to investigate reports of human rights abuses and recommend to the Hong Kong government that indefintely suspended, unreasonably restricted and abolished political and civil rights be restored; and

  5. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to recommend to the Hong Kong government that all political prisoners be immediately released. 
     

This report is based on the Hong Kong Political Prisoners Database (HKPPD) compiled and maintained by Hong Kong Democracy Council in collaboration with Hong Kongers who prefer not to be named due to security considerations. It is the first published report to provide a comprehensive overview of political prisoners in Hong Kong.