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Amnesty International Report 1998 - Hong Kong

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 1 January 1998
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1998 - Hong Kong, 1 January 1998, available at: [accessed 18 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
(This report covers the period January-December 1997)

On 1 July the People's Republic of China resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong after over 150 years of British colonial rule. Amid concern over revisions to civil liberties laws, peaceful protests continued. Three court cases collapsed amid evidence of torture or ill-treatment by police. The Chinese Government announced that it would submit reports to the UN on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (iccpr) and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (icescr) in Hong Kong.

On 1 July Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region (hksar) of the People's Republic of China, with a Basic Law setting a legal framework for maintaining a "high degree of autonomy". As resolved by the National People's Congress (npc) in 1994 (see Amnesty International Report 1995), the existing Legislative Council (Legco) elected in 1995 was disbanded and replaced by a Provisional Legislative Council (plc) chosen by a selection committee of 400 appointees for which there was no provision in the Basic Law (see Amnesty International Report 1997). Meanwhile a special Reunification Ordinance provided for continuity in the civil service and judiciary, and for all incumbents eligible for office under the Basic Law to be reappointed.


Controversy over the legality of the plc continued throughout the year, with court cases unsuccessfully challenging both its validity and whether laws that it enacted violated the Basic Law. These cases raised questions about the solidity of key Basic Law principles, including guarantees for human rights. In July the Court of Appeal opined that the plc was valid and held that its own powers to interpret the Basic Law did not extend to challenging the validity of the npc's decisions.

New elections were set for May 1998 under substantially amended electoral laws which cut the franchise by an estimated 2.5 million in "functional constituencies". In local and regional councils, government appointees were reintroduced.

In February the Standing Committee of the npc resolved that sections of the existing Bill of Rights, and of the Societies and Public Order Ordinances, contravened the Basic Law and therefore should not be adopted as laws of the hksar. The Chief Executive Designate issued a consultation document proposing major revisions to the Societies and Public Order Ordinances. These threatened civil liberties protected under the iccpr and provoked an outcry. The proposals were substantially modified, but the amendments passed by the plc on 1 July still allowed for the deregistration or prohibition of societies and empowered the Commissioner of Police to prohibit peaceful public gatherings or processions, "where he reasonably considers such prohibition to be necessary in the interests of national security". National security was loosely defined as "safeguarding of the territorial integrity and the independence of the People's Republic of China". Administrative guidelines for the police specified that intervention on national security grounds was appropriate if a public meeting or procession was advocating separation from the People's Republic of China, including advocacy of the independence of Taiwan and Tibet. Under the iccpr, national security cannot be invoked to justify restrictions on freedom of expression and association except in serious cases of military or similar threat to the entire nation.

In June, during an attempt by the outgoing government to legislate on National Security offences as required under Basic Law Article 23, legislators deleted existing treasonable offences and narrowed the crime of sedition. However, by the end of the year the hksar government had not signed into operation either these changes, or a law regulating government interception of communications. In June the outgoing government also "localized" into domestic law the British Official Secrets Act. Legislators failed in their attempts to liberalize its definitions of espionage and unlawful disclosure.

Before being disbanded on 1 July, Legco also finalized much civil liberties legislation through private members' bills. Some of these were subsequently suspended and substantially repealed by the plc. Trade unionists complained to the International Labour Organisation (ilo) that the plc's repeal of amendments to employment and trade union laws violated ilo conventions on freedom of association and the right to organize. An amendment to the Bill of Rights, stating that the Bill's guarantees applied to all pre-existing legislation, whether relied upon by the government or private individuals, remained suspended at the end of the year.

Peaceful demonstrations over these and other national and international issues continued throughout the year. Inconsistent official statements gave rise to concern about how the amended Public Order Ordinance and the new crimes introduced by the plc of desecrating the national and regional flag might be used against peaceful protesters. Demonstrators and the press complained at the designation of special protest zones and heavy-handed policing during the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in September, after which five demonstrators were charged with disorderly conduct and assaulting police. Police had greatly outnumbered protesters, allegedly cordoning them off from public view and easy contact with the media. Four activists, including members of the April 5th Action Group, awaited trial at the end of the year on multiple charges after demonstrations in the plc chambers in July and September over the freezing of labour laws.

In June the police set a target of the year 2000 to implement reforms in the treatment of arrested suspects in response to a 1992 report by the Law Reform Commission. Measures included clarifying powers of stop and search, stipulating limits to and review of detention without charge, and progressively introducing video recording of interviews with suspects.

Concerns about police procedures and the treatment of detainees re-emerged in November when Chan Kwok-keung was shot dead at Aberdeen Police Station by an officer who had apprehended him for failing to provide an identity card during a routine inspection. The officer was charged with murder. The police authorities revealed that the officer had received psychological counselling from 1994 to 1996, and began a review of the management of "health-impaired" officers.

In February, August and November, three court cases collapsed following evidence that the police had used torture or ill-treatment to extract confessions. Two cases involved members of Kowloon East Regional Crime Squad; medical evidence reportedly substantiated allegations of water torture

On 23 June the government withdrew in its final stages a bill intended to provide a statutory basis for the Independent Police Complaints Council, an appointed civilian body which monitors and reviews investigations by police into complaints against fellow officers. Legislators' amendments would have given the Council independent investigative powers, a reform which was specifically recommended for Hong Kong by the UN Human Rights Committee in 1995.

In June, three inmates at Lai Chi Kok Reception Center were convicted of the manslaughter of a cellmate in April 1996. Remand prisoner Wong Hang-Kwok died after being beaten in an argument over cleaning duties. During the trial it was alleged that the defendants were favoured prisoners given informal supervision duties by the prison guards, and that the victim had been beaten for ignoring the defendants' orders. A guard had been alerted by his screams, but left when the defendants claimed to be playing. In September plc members expressed dissatisfaction with the results of an internal investigation which found that this was an isolated incident, where a clash of personalities had been aggravated by overcrowding; one member blamed the system of supervision, recommending that it undergo a comprehensive, independent review. Throughout the year the government acknowledged that overcrowding, particularly in remand centres and women's prisons, was a serious problem which prison redevelopment plans alone would not resolve

In the period before 1 July, many asylum-seekers from the People's Republic of China who had been permitted to remain in Hong Kong were granted asylum in third countries. Forced and voluntary repatriation of Vietnamese asylum-seekers continued throughout the year. Several groups of asylum-seekers mounted successful legal challenges against the flawed refugee determination procedure and their continuing detention. At the end of the year, 1,213 Vietnamese refugees remained in Hong Kong with little chance of resettlement overseas. In August the plc passed a motion urging the abolition of Hong Kong's port of first asylum policy; the government was due to report on a wide-ranging policy review in 1998.

In June, as requested by the UN Human Rights Committee in November 1996, the British Government tabled its last report on the implementation of the iccpr in Hong Kong. In November, after many years of uncertainty, the Chinese Government announced that it would submit reports to the UN on the implementation of the iccpr and icescr in Hong Kong. The reports would be prepared by the hksar government, which stated that the established practice of public consultation would be maintained.

An Amnesty International delegation visited Hong Kong in February to discuss human rights protection and promotion following Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty. A report, Hong Kong: Human rights, law and autonomy – the risks of transition, recommended that the incoming hksar government move quickly to secure the future of legal safeguards for freedom of expression and association, protect the independence of the judiciary and clarify laws governing the military garrison in Hong Kong. In April Amnesty International published its submission to the consultation process initiated by the hksar Chief Executive-Designate on proposed changes to the Bill of Rights and legislation governing public order and societies. In late June visiting Amnesty International delegates issued a list of human rights benchmarks for Hong Kong after the handover. Amnesty International's regional office in Hong Kong continued to monitor developments throughout the year and to maintain contact with the hksar authorities.


(This Report covers the period January-December 1997)


Thousands of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, were arbitrarily detained. Torture and ill-treatment were endemic, leading to at least 300 deaths in custody. Prison conditions amounting to ill-treatment were common. "Disappearances" continued. Hundreds of extrajudicial executions were reported. At least 40 people were sentenced to death and five executions were carried out. Armed political groups committed grave human rights abuses, including torture, hostage-taking and killings of civilians.

The year ended with a caretaker government headed by Inder Kumar Gujral, who had been appointed Prime Minister in April after the near collapse of the ruling coalition government. Public controversy about corruption continued, and former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao faced trial on several related charges.

In October the government signed the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

In July the UN Human Rights Committee recommended that India remove restrictions on the National Human Rights Commission (nhrc) which prevent it from investigating complaints of human rights violations by the armed forces, and abolish the requirement that central government approve prosecutions of members of the security forces. The Committee also expressed concern at the widespread use of preventive detention, notably under the provisions of the National Security Act and the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act. The Committee recommended "the early enactment of legislation for mandatory judicial inquiries into cases of disappearance and death, ill-treatment or rape in police custody". It also highlighted discrimination faced by women and vulnerable groups such as Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, backward classes and ethnic and national minorities.

At the end of 1996, the Supreme Court issued a landmark judgment establishing requirements to be followed during arrest and detention to prevent abuse. During 1997, several state governments announced that they were in the process of implementing these measures.

In November the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act – which gives the security forces powers to shoot to kill with virtual impunity – after hearing petitions filed in 1980 and 1982.

The nhrc continued to monitor human rights abuses and raise concerns on a broad range of human rights issues. By the end of the year human rights commissions had been set up in three more states – Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Tamil Nadu. However, the state commissions were prevented by their mandates from investigating violations by the armed forces. In Tamil Nadu, the designation of sessions courts as special human rights courts under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, came under scrutiny in the High Court, which set parameters for human rights cases to be tried in such courts and ordered that they be given powers to award compensation.

Armed conflict between government forces and armed political groups continued in various parts of the country, including Jammu and Kashmir, the northeastern states and Andhra Pradesh. Allegations that so-called "renegades" (armed groups cooperating with security forces) were responsible for abuses in Jammu and Kashmir continued. In Bihar, armed groups with links to state officials and political parties were involved in several violent attacks on rival political groups and their alleged supporters. Children and women were among those killed.

Thousands of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, were

arbitrarily detained. Among them were human rights defenders. Hundreds of peaceful protesters, many of them women, were detained, harassed and ill-treated in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra for protesting against the construction of a power plant by the Dabhol Power Company – a joint venture between three us multinational companies.

Preventive detention provisions in state and central legislation continued to be used widely. For example, in Tamil Nadu alone, around 2,000 habeas corpus petitions were reportedly filed each year for the release of men and women detained under state legislation allowing detention without trial for 12 months.

In August, four human rights defenders and journalists were arrested in Assam, after speaking out against the granting of increased powers to the armed forces in Assam and against government corruption. They were repeatedly charged with having links with an armed opposition group and publishing statements issued by such groups. Three of them – Ajit Kumar Bhuyan, Lachit Bordoloi and Prakash Mahanta, all members of the human rights organization Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (mass) – were subsequently charged under the National Security Act, which allows for preventive detention without trial on loosely defined grounds of national security.

In Jammu and Kashmir, leaders of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (aphc) – which comprises some 30 groups opposed to the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India – were increasingly subjected to arbitrary detention and harassment. In November scores of activists were arrested and detained under preventive detention provisions of the ordinary criminal law while peacefully protesting against human rights violations. Some were still in detention at the end of the year.

Torture, including rape, and ill-treatment were endemic throughout the country. Victims included suspected political activists, criminal suspects, members of vulnerable groups, and those defending economic and social rights. In February, seven men who had been detained by police for several days were admitted to a hospital in Rajkot, Gujurat state, with serious eye injuries. Police officials had apparently rubbed a medicinal balm and chilli powder into their eyes. According to reports, the detainees had been ordered to strip and slap one another before being thrashed with belts. Investigations into the incident were continuing at the end of the year.

There were increasing reports of rape by members of the armed forces. In September, an 18-year-old girl was allegedly raped by soldiers during a search operation in her village in Assam. Doctors confirmed that she had been raped. No action was known to have been taken against the alleged perpetrators. Rape by the police continued. In October Jasbir Kaur was reportedly raped in her husband's presence by four police officers in a police station in Hoshiarpur, Punjab. In September a court in Tamil Nadu convicted six police officers of raping a woman, Padmini, in June 1992. She had been raped in front of her husband, who later died after torture (see Amnesty International Report 1993).

At least 300 people were reported to have died in custody; at least 94 of them in police custody in Jammu and Kashmir between January and March. In August, 14-year-old Ramesh and his 12-year-old brother were taken to the police station in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, on suspicion of stealing a bicycle. When their father pleaded with police to release them, he and his sons were severely beaten. Ramesh's younger brother was subsequently released but Ramesh's body, with his head severed, was found later on a nearby railway track. An investigation was continuing into the incident.

Many prisoners and detainees continued to be held in conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Severe overcrowding, lack of medical facilities, poor sanitation and ill-treatment by prison staff were reported. However, nhrc recommendations calling for reform of prison legislation were not implemented (see Amnesty International Report 1997).

"Disappearances" continued to be reported and the fate of hundreds of people who "disappeared" in previous years remained unknown. In September the Supreme Court ordered compensation for the mothers of two young men who "disappeared" along with one other in Manipur 17 years earlier. Thokchom Lokendra Singh, Kangujam Loken Singh and Kangujam Iboyaima Singh were arrested by army personnel in September 1980. Their fate remained unknown and no action was taken to bring those responsible for their "disappearance" to justice

The Jammu and Kashmir Home Minister told the state assembly in April that since 1990, 454 people had "disappeared" in the state. Hilal Ahmed Khan, a student detained without charge in Jammu and Kashmir by security forces in August, was handed over to police who released him. Security forces immediately rearrested him and took him to Bagat Kanipora camp, but later denied holding him. His whereabouts remained unknown at the end of the year.

In April an investigation ordered by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court into the abduction and killing of Jalil Andrabi, a lawyer and human rights activist (see Amnesty International Report 1997), identified a major in the Territorial Army as responsible. By the end of the year police had failed to arrest him.

Investigations continued into the alleged extrajudicial execution of hundreds of young men who "disappeared" in police custody in Punjab between 1980 and 1994, and the illegal cremation of their bodies. The Supreme Court directed the nhrc to examine "related issues", including compensation for the victims' families. However, at the end of the year, the nhrc's role was challenged in the Supreme Court by the central government, thereby delaying progress in investigations. The fate of Jaswant Singh Khalra, a human rights activist who "disappeared" in 1995 after filing a petition in the Supreme Court about the cremations, remained unknown (see Amnesty International Reports 1996 and 1997).

Extrajudicial executions continued to be reported from Jammu and Kashmir, states of the northeast, Andhra Pradesh and other parts of the country. At least 159 people suspected of being armed political activists were reportedly killed in Andhra Pradesh during the year, and at least 70 people were killed in so-called "encounter" killings between the Bombay police and armed criminal suspects between January and October.

In March the nhrc requested all state governments to ensure that all deaths as a result of "encounters" with police be investigated by an independent agency. The request resulted from nhrc investigations in 1995 into a few of the hundreds of alleged extrajudicial executions by police in Andhra Pradesh in recent years.

Chandrashekhar, a student activist, and Shyamnarain Yadav, a political activist, were shot dead in March while addressing a meeting in Siwan, Bihar. Reports indicated that the killers were linked to the victims' political rivals and to government officials. An investigation into the killings by the Central Bureau of Investigation (cbi) was continuing at the end of the year.

In April the singer and poet Gaddar, who had been active in protests against police killings of suspected naxalites (members of an armed left-wing group), was shot and seriously wounded outside his house. The police denied any involvement in the shooting. However, human rights activists alleged that an organization called the "Green Tigers", which claimed responsibility for the attack on Gaddar and subsequent attacks on members of the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (apclc), was used as a cover by Andhra Pradesh police for illegal activities.

In July, 10 members of a dalit community (disadvantaged group determined by caste hierarchies) were killed and 14 injured when the police in Mumbai opened fire on a protest against the desecration of thestatueofadalitleader.Ajudicialinquiry was continuing by the end of the year.

At least 40 people were sentenced to death and five executions were carried out. Two dalit men sentenced to death in 1995 in Andhra Pradesh continued to await a decision on mercy petitions presented to the President in September 1996.

Armed political groups committed grave human rights abuses, including torture, hostage-taking and killings of civilians. In July Sanjay Ghosh, a social and environmental activist, was seized by the United Liberation Front of Assam (ulfa) on the island of Majuli in central Assam, accused of being an agent of the intelligence services. His fate and whereabouts were unknown at the end of the year

Scores of people, including civilians, were killed by armed political groups in Jammu and Kashmir. Victims included politicians, journalists and members of the Hindu minority. In March, seven Hindu men were killed in Sangrampura in Budgam district. Unidentified armed men reportedly surrounded their homes at night, ordered them out and shot them dead. In May Ghulam Rasool Wani, a leader of the National Conference political party, was kidnapped by unidentified armed men and shot dead near his home in Kaskot in the Banihal area of Doda district. Civilians were also killed in apparently indiscriminate attacks. For example, in March a car bomb explosion in a crowded bus station in Jammu killed 16 civilians and injured 70.

Amnesty International published a number of reports, including: India: Jammu and Kashmir – remembering Jalil Andrabi, in March; India: Official sanction for killings in Manipur, in April; India: The "Enron project" in Maharashtra – protests suppressed in the name of development, in July; and India: Appeal to armed opposition groups in Jammu and Kashmir to abide by humanitarian law, in August.

In July Amnesty International submitted a detailed analysis of the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in India to the UN Human Rights Committee.

In May, August and September Amnesty International delegates visited India and met government officials and representatives of the nhrc. At the time of the annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Hong Kong in September, Amnesty International highlighted cases from India which demonstrated the use of repressive measures to facilitate projects funded by international financial institutions.

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