After 20 years — Hong Kong is becoming more like China, losing its human rights protections.

By T. Kumar, Advocacy Director for Asia and Europe, Amnesty International USA

On July 1 1997, Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty striking hope and fear among Hong Kong residents and the international community after more than one hundred and fifty years as a British colony. China and Britain negotiated the return of Hong Kong and agreed that for fifty years Hong Kong would rule under a “one country two systems” arrangement enshrined in Hong Kong Basic Law.

Under the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, Hong Kong is guaranteed “a high degree of autonomy” including an independent judiciary, media freedom and the right to exercise basic human rights like free speech and the right to peaceful protest. Initially, there was hope that this system would allow Hong Kong residents to enjoy full human rights, but then there came the fear that China may eventually exert its influence to the detriment of human rights protections.

After twenty years, the worst fears are coming true. Hong Kong citizen’s human rights are being trampled upon and Hong Kong is becoming more like China when it comes to the protection of fundamental freedoms and human rights. There are numerous examples. Here are few:

The case of booksellers

In late 2015, the Chinese authorities showed total contempt for due process and the rule of law when five booksellers went missing in Thailand, mainland China and Hong Kong and reappeared on television in mainland China in January and February of 2016. Gui Minhai, Lui Por, Cheung Chi-ping, Lee Po and Lam Wing-kee worked for Mighty Current Media, a Hong Kong company known for its books on Chinese leaders and political scandals.

The U.S. Department of State called the detention of these five booksellers “the most serious breach of the “one country, two systems” policy since 1997” and “The British Foreign Secretary noted that the disappearances constituted a “serious breach” of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.” When Lam Wing-kee returned to Hong Kong in June 2016, he held a press conference in which he said he was arbitrarily detained, ill-treated in detention and forced to “confess”.

According to the U.S. Department of State, “Lam’s statements confirmed for many observers that the Central Government had bypassed Hong Kong law enforcement agencies to pursue an individual inside Hong Kong for political reasons in contravention of the Basic Law.”

Arrest of pro-democracy supporters

Police arrested nine people involved in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement on April 27th 201t. Eight of them face charges of public disorder and/or unlawful assembly for their involvement in a largely peaceful protest last November against a central government ruling on Hong Kong’s Basic Law. One of them is on charge of assaulting police. They all are on bail awaiting trial.

n July 2016, student activists Joshua Wong and Alex Chow were found guilty of “taking part in an unlawful assembly” and Nathan Law was found guilty of “inciting others to take part in an unlawful assembly” under the vague provisions in Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance, for their roles in events that triggered the 2014 pro-democracy protest, also known as the Umbrella Movement.

In 2015, Amnesty International issued the following: “URGENT ACTION: Supporters of Hong Kong Protests ‘Tortured,’” and called for action against the horrifying treatment of at least 27 people who remained behind bars in China after showing support for the prodemocracy protests in Hong Kong.

Judicial independence

“The HKSAR and PRC governments are bound by a duty to uphold the principle of “one country, two systems”, enshrined in the Basic Law, which states that central government legislation and underlying concepts on these issues are not to be introduced into the HKSAR for a period of fifty years after 1997. However, controversy over interpretation of the Basic Law has exposed both the limits of the autonomy of the HKSAR and loopholes in the checks, balances and separation of powers, which underpin human rights guarantees in the Basic Law.”

In November 1999, the UN Human Rights Committee, commenting on the first report submitted by China on the implementation of the ICCPR in Hong Kong, expressed concern that government requests for reinterpretation of the Basic Law could undermine the right to fair trial.

China is reneging on its promise to maintain the one country two systems policy and exerting ever increasing pressure on Hong Kong to adopt Xi Jinping’s policies and agenda. The result is, after 20 years — Hong Kong is becoming more like China, loosing human rights protections.

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