The freedoms guaranteed to the people of Hong Kong in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, have been increasingly eroded after two decades of Chinese rule, according to a recent report by a U.K.-based human rights group.
“In Hong Kong, the rule of law is under pressure, human rights are undermined, and the city appears no closer to democracy [and] the situation appears likely to worsen in the coming years unless the people of Hong Kong and international governments unify to protect the rights of those living there,” a report penned for the rights NGO Hong Kong Watch by former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown said.
Citing the rule of law in the city as a key concern, the report said that while judges are still independent, the same can’t be said for government officials in charge of the judiciary.
“The independence of officials at the Department for Justice is in doubt, which has led to questions being raised about the threat to the rule of law in Hong Kong,” Ashdown wrote in a report on human rights in the city after two decades of Chinese rule. “This must be monitored closely.”
The report found that Hong Kong’s democracy “has been further damaged by the recent changes to the rules of the Legislative Council [LegCo],” which will limit the ability of the minority pan-democratic opposition to properly scrutinize and question legislation.
The anti-filibustering measures “undermine the ability of the pro-democracy opposition in Hong Kong to properly fulfill their mandate, and therefore undermine the democratic process in Hong Kong,” the report said.
It said the changes come as Beijing and Hong Kong officials have said they will push through unpopular legislation governing such notions as treason and subversion, legislation that the report said has the potential to breach human rights.
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam hit out at the report, saying it was “inappropriate” for a member of the U.K. parliament to make such remarks, which were “totally unfounded and unfair.”
"I take great exception to the comments and conclusions in that report,” Lam told reporters. “Those comments are totally unfounded and unfair," Lam said.
Standing up for Hong Kong
She rejected suggestions that Beijing’s central liaison office in the city had been interfering in its internal affairs.
"Quite on the contrary, the central people’s government has been fully backing and supporting Hong Kong," Lam said. "In order to better integrate into the national development, we do need a lot more liaison … and this sort of liaison will help Hong Kong," she said.
But Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said Lam’s job should be to stand up for Hong Kong.
“I think Carrie Lam is full of mainland Chinese fervor for [President] Xi Jinping right now,” Wu said. “She has a duty to make a proper response [to the report], not to stand up for China by saying others can’t comment on our internal affairs.”
The bilateral Sino-British Joint Declaration treaty signed in 1984 by then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang, set out how Britain would end its century-and-a-half long rule over Hong Kong, and how China would govern the city using the "one country, two systems" principle thereafter.
But President Xi Jinping shrugged the treaty off during handover anniversary celebrations last year, saying it is a historical document that “no longer has any practical significance,”
Recently, a string of legal interventions by China's parliament, as well as the cross-border detentions of five Hong Kong booksellers and the expulsion from LegCo of six pan democratic lawmakers, have heightened concerns that Hong Kong’s promised “high degree of autonomy” may now be a thing of the past.
Hong Kong Watch was founded by a U.K. ruling Conservative Party human rights activist after he was refused entry to the city in October, amid apparent concerns that he would visit three jailed democracy activists in the former British colony.
Benedict Rogers, deputy chair of the party's human rights commission, was taken aside by Hong Kong immigration officers and put back aboard a plane to Thailand, where he had come from, prompting calls from London for an explanation. None has yet been forthcoming.
Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.