HONG KONG — ; The human rights situation in Hong Kong has taken a turn for the worse this year, a human rights group said Thursday, citing Beijing-sponsored political intimidation as the former British colony gears up for legislative elections this month.
“The past 12 months have seen the most worrying attacks on free expression and association since the 1997 handover,” Brad Adams, head of the Asia division of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“Beijing has created a climate of fear among many in Hong Kong with its attacks on dissenters’ patriotism and other forms of intimidation.”
“This appears to be a direct result of Beijing’s desire to control the political situation in Hong Kong,” Adams said.
In a 40-page report released Thursday, the group says that Hong Kong politicians, journalists, and voters have faced political intimidation and criminal threats, much of it apparently emanating from Beijing with the aim of skewing election results to favor pro-Beijing candidates.
This year has seen the resignations of three prominent and outspoken political chat-show hosts, together with attacks, personal threats, and vandalism by unknown individuals aimed at pro-democracy politicians.
And in a heavy-handed move in April, Beijing announced unilaterally that it wouldn’t allow universal suffrage for Hong Kong’s next election cycle in 2007 and 2008, stifling public consultation before it had started and sending hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the city’s streets on the anniversary of the handover to Chinese rule on July 1.
“Beijing has created a climate of fear among many in Hong Kong with its attacks on dissenters’ patriotism and other forms of intimidation,” Adams said. “Hong Kong people should not feel their jobs, families and safety are at stake for defending the human rights and basic freedoms that still distinguish Hong Kong from the mainland.”
Hong Kong media ran editorials critical of Beijing a day after Chinese police held a news conference and displayed a photograph of a half-naked Democratic Party candidate, Ho Wai-to, who was arrested last month in south China and ordered to undergo six months re-education without trial for hiring a prostitute.
“Now, it appears, Beijing has gone beyond ruling out universal suffrage, to hands-on activities to see to it that the outcome of Sunday’s election will be to its liking,” wrote commentator Frank Ching in the English-language South China Morning Post .
Chinese officials slammed the Human Rights Watch report as a distortion of reality. Foreign ministry spokesman Kong Quan said China would uphold promises of a high degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” formula.
“The central government has consistently followed this guideline—this is so now, and it will be so in the future,” Kong told a regular news briefing. “We deeply believe that Hong Kong’s tomorrow will be still better, and we do not need those so-called human rights organizations to gesticulate at the path we are following.”