On June 30 the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom Dominic Raab put out a tweet criticizing the human rights situation in Hong Kong since the introduction of the National Security Law (NSL) last year.
“Today marks one year since the National Security Law was imposed on Hong Kong,” Raab wrote. “Since then we’ve seen this legislation used to systematically crush rights and freedoms, not protect public security. These actions by Beijing continue to breach the Joint Declaration. Tomorrow marks 24 years since the handover of Hong Kong. Its prosperity and way of life rely on the respect for fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. The UK will not look the other way on Hong Kong and we will not duck our historic responsibilities to its people.”
On July 1, a spokesperson for the embassy of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the UK responded to Raab by falsely claiming that Hong Kong enjoys “unprecedented freedoms”.
“Today is the 24th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover, and it is also one year since the National Security Law took effect,” the spokesperson said. “This is a day of celebration for the Chinese people, including our Hong Kong compatriots.”
“One year since the implementation of the NSL, stability has returned to Hong Kong’s society, so that the rule of law and justice can be upheld, and the Hong Kong people’s rights and freedoms are conscientiously protected,” he continued. “As far as rights and freedoms are concerned, since the handover 24 years ago the Hong Kong people have enjoyed unprecedented rights and freedoms according to the law (香港民众依法享有的权利自由是前所未有的). By contrast, what rights and freedoms did the Hong Kong people enjoy during the 156 years of British colonial rule?”
Following the handover in 1997, the government of the PRC began to undermine Hong Kong’s freedoms and civil liberties. The introduction of the NSL in June 2020 severely restricted freedom of speech, of the press and assembly, it led to the political persecution of pro-democracy activists and journalists, and gutted the electoral system.
On June 25, Human Rights Watch released a report arguing that the PRC is “dismantling a free society”:
Beijing is systematically erasing the civil and political rights people long enjoyed, including freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, access to information, and academic freedom. Citizens no longer have the right to participate in free and fair elections and to run for office. The authorities are shutting down the free media, cutting off funding for the pro-democracy movement, and depriving those accused of political crimes of their fair trial rights. Impunity for police abuse is expanding. Beijing’s efforts in Hong Kong are coordinated and comprehensive and appear aimed to transform a mostly free city into one that follows the Chinese Communist Party line.
Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms are enshrined in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, a treaty registered with the United Nations.
The Declaration granted Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy except in foreign and defense matters, and safeguarded its rights and freedoms.
Article 2 of the treaty states:
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs which are the responsibilities of the Central People’s Government. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will be vested with executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication. The laws currently in force in Hong Kong will remain basically unchanged … The current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged, and so will the life-style. Rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief will be ensured by law …
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