Hong Kong and Chinese officials are engaging in sweeping curbs on dissent and political opposition, a U.K. government report said this week, as European Union officials joined a chorus of international criticism over a draconian national security law.
Over the past six months, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has moved to “crush dissent and suppress the expression of alternative political views in Hong Kong,” a six-monthly report from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said.
“China has broken its legal obligations by undermining Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, rights and freedoms,” the report found.
It said a draconian national security law imposed on the city by Beijing from July 1, 2020 is being used “to … deter freedom of expression and legitimate political debate.”
Those who fall foul of the law’s loosely defined provisions could face lengthy jail terms, as well as the transfer of some cases to mainland China for prosecution and sentencing, it said, citing the prosecution of 47 democracy activists and former opposition lawmakers on “subversion” charges after they took part in a democratic primary ahead of the Legislative Council (LegCo) election in July 2020.
Sweeping electoral changes were also imposed by the National People’s Congress (NPC), which the FCO said “reverses China’s promise to Hong Kong … of gradual progress towards a system of universal suffrage, and further hollows out the Legislative Council.”
It also hit out at the negative effect of the national security law on media freedom.
The European Union added its voice to the U.K.’s criticism with a statement on June 9, drawing Beijing’s ire at what it termed interference in China’s internal affairs.
Peter Stano, EU Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said the promises made to Hong Kong ahead of the 1997 handover were an international matter, however.
“We refute the allegations that that is EU interference in internal Hong Kong affairs,” Stano said in comments emailed to RFA.
“There is a clear international aspect to what is happening in Hong Kong,” he said, citing the registration of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration setting out China’s international commitments regarding the city’s promised autonomy.
Stano said the E.U. took issue with the Chinese Embassy’s claim that the national security law had garnered broad public support in Hong Kong.
“The mass mobilization of Hongkongers against the imposition of the National Security Law, the electoral changes, and overall crackdown on pro-democracy forces, the stifling of pluralism, and erosion of fundamental freedoms, has been clear for everyone to see,” he said.
The U.K. report was published ahead of the second anniversary of the June 12 storming of the Legislative Council chamber by protesters angry at plans by the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam to allow the rendition of alleged criminal suspects to face trial in mainland China.
Reports indicated that police will likely deploy more than 1,000 officers to patrol former protest sites in Causeway Bay and Mong Kok.
More than 10,000 people have been arrested to date in connection with the 2019 protest movement, more than 4,000 of whom were students at the time.
Ban on public gatherings
Online posts in recent days have called on Hongkongers to defy a ban on public gatherings under coronavirus restrictions and to commemorate the anniversary on the streets.
Trade union leader Lee Cheuk-yan, who is currently on remand pending trial on public order offenses linked to the 2019 protest movement, posted a message calling on people not to lose hope or to give up the struggle against authoritarian rule in Hong Kong.
Civil Human Rights Front convenor Figo Chan posted to social media, in a reference to a quotation from the work of revolutionary Chinese writer Lu Xun.
“We still have stones, and we still have sparks, so go Hongkongers!” Chan wrote.
Since the U.K. set out a potential pathway to citizenship for holders of the Hong Kong-specific British National Overseas (BNO) passport, more than 35,000 applications have been received, according to the FCO, averaging around 3,000 a week since the scheme was launched.
Canada has received nearly 6,000 applications for work permits from Hong Kong residents since the start of this year, compared with a previous annual rate of around 2,000.
Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU, had earlier hit out at recent changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system by China’s NPC, adding that the EU is considering sending a delegation to Hong Kong.
A Germany-based student campaigner who gave only the nickname Kelvin said Hongkongers in Germany were encouraged by Borrell’s statement.
“Sending high-level EU officials to Hong Kong would be the natural first step,” he said. “The trend in the past year has been that Western democracies are standing up to China together, and the EU will likely also move towards this position.”
Campaigners — including the U.K.-based rights group Hong Kong Watch — have previously expressed deep disappointment at a lack of economic sanctions from the EU, which recently inked an investment agreement on terms highly favorable to Beijing.
Reported by Su Yutong, Yitong Wu, Chingman and Carmen Wu for RFA’s Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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