The UK has reiterated its concern over China’s strategy to Hong Kong, accusing Beijing of eroding the territory’s rights and freedoms and breaching the worldwide treaty below which the one-time British colony was returned to China, prompting indignant reactions from Beijing and Hong Kong.
Within the newest six-monthly evaluation of the state of affairs in Hong Kong [PDF], the UK authorities cited occasions together with the closely-controlled course of below which John Lee grew to become the territory’s new chief, the continued arrest and prosecution “of those that dissent” and ongoing nationwide safety trials as proof of the deterioration of Hong Kong’s political and civic life.
The report, launched on Thursday within the UK, coated the interval from January to June 2022.
“Hong Kong’s autonomy is declining, and the pervasive, chilling impact of the Nationwide Safety Legislation seeps into all points of society,” Overseas Secretary James Cleverly mentioned in his introduction to the report.
“Freedoms are being systematically eroded by Beijing on a number of fronts, tightening the restrictions on the lives of strange Hong Kongers.”
China imposed the Nationwide Safety Legislation on Hong Kong in June 2020, following mass protests the yr earlier than that generally turned violent.
The broadly-worded legislation punishes “terrorism”, collusion with international forces, subversion and secession with potential life in jail, limiting the possibility for defendants to safe bail and eradicating jury trials. Critics say the legislation has been used to crack down on dissent with human rights group Amnesty Worldwide, which closed its workplace within the territory in 2021, arguing Hong Kong was on the highway to turning into a police state.
The most recent evaluation from the UK authorities drew indignant condemnation from Hong Kong’s authorities in addition to Beijing officers.
In a press release late on Thursday, the Hong Kong authorities mentioned it “vehemently refutes the slandering remarks and ill-intentioned political assaults” within the UK’s report.
Hong Kong is an “inalienable a part of the Folks’s Republic of China”, it mentioned, accusing the UK of interfering within the territory’s affairs and urging it “to respect the essential norms governing worldwide relations”.
The Chinese language Embassy within the UK echoed these feedback, saying the UK report “distorted information, grossly interfered in Hong Kong affairs, that are China’s inside affairs, and severely violated the essential norms governing worldwide relations”.
The UK authorities started the six-monthly replace after the territory was returned to Chinese language rule in 1997 with Beijing promising to respect Hong Kong’s excessive autonomy and distinctive lifestyle for at the very least 50 years. Whereas the territory has by no means been a democracy, its individuals lengthy loved rights and freedoms unknown on the mainland.
“There isn’t any doubt that China is failing to adjust to the Sino-British Joint Declaration [PDF],” Cleverly mentioned in his remarks. “Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms have been sacrificed to facilitate larger management by Beijing, undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy. China is diminishing the lifestyle promised to Hong Kong 25 years in the past.”
The UK mentioned it was carefully watching the case of pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who additionally has UK citizenship, and whose determination to retain a British barrister was rejected by the Hong Kong authorities even after its personal courts upheld the request.
The lawyer, Timothy Owen, doesn’t ordinarily practise within the territory however had been allowed to take action on an advert hoc foundation.
Hong Kong’s authorities insisted that his presence would represent a danger to “nationwide safety” given the character of the trial, and Lee referred the problem to the Standing Committee of Beijing’s Nationwide Folks’s Congress on the finish of November – simply earlier than Lai’s trial below the safety legislation was attributable to begin.
On the finish of December the NPCSC introduced its findings, and didn’t expressly bar international legal professionals. As an alternative, it mentioned Hong Kong and its Committee for Safeguarding Nationwide Safety had the ability to “make judgements and choices” over whether or not a problem concerned nationwide safety, and reiterated that the Hong Kong committee’s choices weren’t topic to judicial evaluate.
“We are going to watch carefully how the Chief Government implements the choice,” Cleverly mentioned.
The trial of Lai, the founding father of the massively widespread Apple Each day, which was closed in 2021, is now attributable to begin in September.
Cleverly mentioned whereas the UK was ready to “work constructively” with Lee it could “decide the Hong Kong authorities based mostly on its actions”.
“We name on the Chief Government to respect rights and freedoms in Hong Kong, and to uphold the rule of legislation. It’s in China’s pursuits that Hong Kong preserve its distinctiveness,” he mentioned.