Beijing’s attack on Hong Kong freedoms ‘worsened considerably’ in 2018: HRW

Pro-independence activists end their march outside Admiralty Centre on Jan. 1. A new report by Human Rights Watch says that Beijing’s efforts to undermine pro-democratic causes in Hong Kong worsened in 2018. Photo by Vicky Wong.
Pro-independence activists end their march outside Admiralty Centre on Jan. 1. A new report by Human Rights Watch says that Beijing’s efforts to undermine pro-democratic causes in Hong Kong worsened in 2018. Photo by Vicky Wong.

With its moves to shut out independent electoral candidates, tamp down pro-democratic speech, and arbitrarily suspend visas for those unwilling to toe the line, Beijing’s erosion of Hong Kong’s long-enjoyed political freedoms “worsened considerably” in 2018, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch. Shocker, right?

The report cites, among other things, the disqualification of legislative candidate Agnes Chow and the ouster of legislator Lau Siu-lai for their advocacy of “self-determination”; efforts to quash a public appearance by pro-independence activist Andy Chan; and the government’s subsequent refusal to renew the visa of Victor Mallet, a vice president of the Foreign Correspondent’s Club, after the club went ahead with Chan’s lecture.

“These events in the past year indicate that Hong Kong’s freedoms are deteriorating at a quickening pace,” Maya Wang, China researcher at HRW, told the Hong Kong Free Press. “In a city that has long taken pride in and treasured its freedoms, people now have to watch their words as the government imposes increasing restrictions on free expression.”

Despite historically enjoying much greater freedoms than the mainland thanks to the “one country, two systems” principle, Hong Kong’s government is controlled by a chief executive appointed by the mainland. The current chief executive, Carrie Lam, and her predecessor, CY Leung, have repeatedly come under fire for decisions seen as curtailing pro-democracy activism in contravention of longstanding Hong Kong norms.

The Hong Kong government, furthermore, has explicitly expressed its “zero tolerance” for Hong Kong independence.

Today’s HRW report also notes the interrogation on the mainland of two members of a pro-democracy party and the harassment of mainland relatives of a pro-independence activists, as well as the “unprecedented” banning of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party as a purported “real threat to national security.” The party was led by Andy Chan, the speaker authorities had sought to block at the Foreign Correspondents Club.

Pro-democracy legislator Claudia Mo told Coconuts Hong Kong today that she “absolutely” agreed with HRW’s assessment of the shrinking democratic space.

“Beijing has tightened its grip over Hong Kong,” she said, adding that the heightened repression was intended as punishment for an “ungrateful” Hong Kong.

Mo also pointed to a recently proposed law that sets out jail time for anyone convicted of disrespecting the Chinese national anthem, calling it “the latest gesture, if not a weapon, to scare Hong Kong into obedience.”

“The whole thing is to introduce this fear factor into Hong Kong society,” she added.

However, Mo said, if anything, the situation is likely to become “increasingly restrictive.”

“The only thing we can do in Hong Kong, really, is to continue electing more democrats into the legislature,” she said, noting the uphill battles pro-democracy lawmakers would nevertheless face. “But we can’t give up, though.”

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