U.N. To Probe Hong Kong's Voting Rights Amid Row Over Class Boycott


2014-09-10
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china-heckler-sept2014.gif A man (L) who heckled pro-democracy activists is confronted by police outside St. Bonaventure church in Hong Kong, Sept. 9, 2014.
AFP

The United Nations' human rights agency is to investigate whether or not Beijing has done enough to ensure full democracy in Hong Kong, as activists continued their campaign in the face of China's vetoing of public nominations in 2017 elections.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee, in a public session on Oct. 23, will examine the latest proposals to allow Hong Kong's five million voters to elect the next chief executive from a list of candidates pre-qualified to Beijing's satisfaction, spokeswoman Elizabeth Throssel told Agence France-Presse on Wednesday.

Hong Kong's beleaguered pro-democracy movement has vowed to push ahead with protests after the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislative body, ruled out the public nomination of candidates in the 2017 race for chief executive of the former British colony.

Class boycott

Students in the city have vowed to boycott classes for a week beginning Sept. 22, in protest at the NPC's ruling.

But the pro-Beijing Alliance for Peace and Democracy has set up a telephone hotline for anyone wishing to inform on students promoting the boycott, sparking fears that an ideological "thought police" is springing up on the territory's university campuses.

"I have received a lot of complaints from college principals and lecturers criticizing the Alliance's hotline, and its attempt to turn staff and students into 'secret police'," Ip Kin-yuen, a lawmaker representing the education sector, told RFA on Wednesday.

"[They say] this is an attempt to intimidate any colleges with a large and obvious class boycott, and a bid to increase pressure on their principals," Ip said.

"The Alliance shouldn't be interfering in the affairs of the colleges; it won't help its advocacy for [Beijing's] political reform proposals," said Ip, who is also chief executive of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union.

"Such a thing has never happened in Hong Kong before, secret informing on students and colleges," he said.

Meanwhile, Alliance founder Chan Yong told reporters the hotline had been aimed at informing parents about their children's activities.

"This is meant to give everyone a choice about what their children, minors, particularly high-school students, are doing, and it's in everyone's interest," Chan said.

Privacy

Hong Kong's education secretary Eddie Ng said he was against high-school students boycotting class.

"We will be dealing with the question of whether the hotline infringes students privacy, in gathering information about which students and schools hold boycotts, in due course," Ng told reporters.

The row over student activism comes as pan-democratic politicians said they would boycott the Hong Kong government's own consultation process on reforms proposed by Beijing's National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee on Aug. 31.

"The first round of consultations in May was a total waste of time, because the proposals we submitted weren't accepted," Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau told RFA. "The NPC just came up with its own version."

"So why would we want to waste more time on a second round?" she said.
"We won't be taking part in the government's nonsense, and we are calling on citizens not to get involved either."

Pan-democratic parties hold 23 of the 60 seats in Hong Kong's Legislative Council, and some of their votes will be needed if the government is to get the NPC-approved reform package voted through, analysts say.

Little left to debate

Democratic Party lawmaker Gary Fan said there is very little left to debate in the wake of the NPC's announcement, however.

"The most important principle [of public nomination] has already been ruled out, which is blocking any further prospect of dialogue," Fan said.

"It's pretty meaningless now."

He called on the Hong Kong government to make amendments to the reform package if they wished for further debate from legislators.

The Washington Post on Wednesday quoted a senior U.S. official as saying that Hong Kong was discussed at a meeting between President Xi Jinping and visiting U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice on Tuesday.

But Chinese foreign ministry officials were dismissive of the discussions on Wednesday.

The affairs of Hong Kong, including political reforms, are China's internal affairs," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing in Beijing.

"We resolutely oppose foreign countries' interference in any form," Hua said.

Heads shaved

On Tuesday, the founders of Hong Kong's Occupy Central pro-democracy movement and 40 others shaved their heads, vowing to continue with civil disobedience protests in spite of Beijing's hard line on universal suffrage.

"Never resign to fate, never give up," Occupy founder Chan Kin-man told reporters during the head shaving protest.

"Our most important mission is to promote civil society, to protect our core values, and not to let the freedom and rights we have deteriorate," Chan said.

Some 800,000 people voted in an informal referendum run by the Occupy campaign in June in support of three different nomination methods, all of which included public nomination options.

But the NPC said in its Aug. 31 statement that election candidates for chief executive must be vetted by a special committee before being approved to run.

In past elections, such a committee has been stacked with pro-Beijing candidates, making the selection of a pro-democratic candidate highly unlikely.

Democratic politicians and campaigners have slammed the NPC's election framework as a "fake election."

The U.N.'s Throssel said the committee isn't reacting to recent developments in Hong Kong, however, calling it a follow-up to a review of China's rights record conducted last October.

During that review, the UN body urged Beijing and Hong Kong to "take all necessary measures to implement universal and equal suffrage," and gave them a year to report back on how they were implementing that and other recommendations.

The committee will hear from China, Hong Kong and a range of different organizations before determining whether any progress is being made, Throssel told AFP.

The committee's findings will be made public at the end of the session, she said.

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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