Hong Kong After 20 Years: the Rollback of Civil, Human, and Legal Rights

By Dr John Hemmings

A new report by the Henry Jackson Society has today highlighted how human rights have deteriorated in Hong Kong over the last two decades.

The report, Hong Kong After Twenty Years: The Rollback of Civil, Human, and Legal Rights, makes the following findings:

  • A startling and dramatic decrease of Hong Kong’s democratic and legal rights in only 10 years, indicated on a wide front of indicators.
  • China has engaged in a number of direct and indirect ways to subvert both the legislative process and judicial system in Hong Kong, making those sectors beholden to Beijing.
  • Lacking the legal means of extradition, Chinese police simply resort to illegal kidnappings of those who present Chinese leaders with difficulty.
  • Chinese attempts at fostering nationalist education curriculum in 2014 backfired and are behind the rise of the Umbrella Movement. Only 3.1% of Hong Kong youth identify as Chinese.
  • Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index saw Hong Kong go from 18thplace in 2002 to 73rd place in 2017.
  • The UK is torn between its desire for trade relations with Beijing and its moral responsibility to uphold the Joint Declaration. It is at a crossroads and will eventually have to choose one or the other.

Commenting on the report, former Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Sir Richard Ottaway, said:

“All supporters of human rights will be concerned by reports that freedom of assembly and freedom of speech and the press are being undermined in ways both overt and indirect. A free press and the right to demonstrate peacefully are essential to the functioning of a free society and are among the most crucial pillars upholding Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy. We should closely monitor the preservation of these freedoms, and must be robust and persistent, both publicly and privately, in affirming our support for these fundamental rights.”

Lord Patten, Former Governor of Hong Kong said:

I think it is extremely important for friends of Hong Kong in this country and beyond to give their support to the community there and to keep watch over the extent to which the pledges made to Hong Kong are kept by China.

Hong Kong is a great and still free city. Every friend of Hong Kong is determined that this should continue to be the position.

Anson Chan, former Chief Secretary in both the British colonial government of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government said:

“The rule of law, once an integral part of our judiciary, is at risk because of successive interpretations of the Basic Law by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC). We have seen at least one Hong Kong book publisher forcibly removed from Hong Kong to the mainland without due process. And the imprisonment of three young activists adds to the growing perception that the Government here is determined to silence political opponents.”

Benedict Rogers, the human rights activist recently banned from entering Hong Kong, said:

“This is a timely, comprehensive and urgently needed report. Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy are increasingly under threat, with the erosion of ‘one country, two systems’. Twenty years after the handover, it is time for the United Kingdom to live up to its responsibilities under the Sino-British Joint Declaration. This report will help inform policy-makers in Britain and around the world, and in so doing contribute to the effort to defend Hong Kong’s way of life”.

John Hemmings, Director, Asia Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society and author of the report, said:

“This report seeks to be a stock check of where Hong Kong is twenty years after the Handover. The situation there is nuanced, but grim, nevertheless. While enjoying many more freedoms than citizens of the mainland, a great gap has opened up between what the people of Hong Kong expect from their government, and what the People’s Republic of China is willing to provide. Reading the chapters in this paper – from British diplomats to Hong Kong democracy activists – one is struck by the fact that no matter the nationality or age, the underlying theme is the search for the dignity of political rights.”

For the full report, please click here.


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