Human rights undermined in Hong Kong, says Ashdown

In report for NGO, former Lib Dem leader says rule of law, democracy and interference by Beijing are areas of concern

Freedoms in Hong Kong have been increasingly eroded and human rights have been undermined, according to a report by Paddy Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader in the UK, that paints a bleak picture of the city’s future.

Lord Ashdown, who travelled to Hong Kong in November on a fact-finding mission, said rule of law, democracy and interference by Beijing were areas of concern.

China’s increasing interference in Hong Kong – acts that potentially contravene an international treaty signed with the UK – threatened Beijing’s image as a “trustworthy leader in the contemporary world”, he said.

“Over the past five years, the freedoms guaranteed to the people of Hong Kong in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, have been increasingly eroded,” Ashdown wrote in the report. “The rule of law is under pressure, human rights are undermined and the city appears no closer to democracy.”

Ashdown said the city’s judiciary remained objective, but he added: “The independence of officials at the Department for Justice is in doubt.” Several high-profile prosecutions in the past two years have lead to activists being jailed and democratically elected lawmakers being disqualified.

The report was published by Hong Kong Watch, an NGO founded by the human rights activist Benedict Rogers, who previously lived in the city. Rogers became a household name in Hong Kong’s democracy circles overnight when he was barred from entering the city in October without explanation.

If Hong Kong’s freedoms continue to deteriorate, the UK should consider granting holders of a special class of British nationality the right of abode, Ashdown said. “Britain bears the responsibility for the position in Hong Kong.”

He said a proposal to allow Chinese police to enforce laws in a portion of a Hong Kong rail station “set a dangerous precedent and could undermine confidence in the rule of law”. The project has been highly controversial, with the Hong Kong Bar Association saying the plan “severely undermines” confidence in the rule of law.

In a rare personal rebuke to foreign criticism, Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, rejected Ashdown’s report. “I take great exception to the comments and conclusions in that report. Those comments are totally unfounded and unfair,” Lam said at a press conference. “The nature of this is that a foreign institution meddled in the internal affairs of our country and Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong’s leaders and officials in Beijing often bristle at suggestions that freedoms and laws are under threat, and say any assessments by foreigners is undue interference.

Hong Kong officials were not the only ones to come under fire in Ashdown’s assessment. He criticised the system that allows nearly half of the city’s legislature to be elected by business and professional groups, calling it “the worst legacy left behind by Britain”.

“They continue to be a major barrier to the realisation of universal suffrage in Hong Kong,” Ashdown said.

Contributor

Benjamin Haas in Hong Kong

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Hong Kong human rights situation 'worst since handover to China'
Amnesty International report says rule of law, freedom of speech and trust in government all deteriorated in 2016

Benjamin Haas in Hong Kong

12, Jan, 2017 @9:56 AM

Article image
China in darkest period for human rights since Tiananmen, says rights group
Human Rights Watch lists persecutions in Xinjiang, Mongolia, Tibet and Hong Kong but notes new willingness to condemn Beijing

Helen Davidson in Taipei

13, Jan, 2021 @11:00 AM

Article image
Agnes Chow: activist leaves jail as China says Hong Kong ‘pawn in geopolitics’
Key figure was imprisoned for more than six months for her role in the 2019 anti-government protests

Staff and agencies

12, Jun, 2021 @6:20 AM

Article image
Hong Kong being watched 'closely' over activist arrests, says UN
The UN human rights watchdog OHCHR reminds the territory that charges against prominent pro-democracy figures have not gone unnoticed

Helen Davidson

24, Apr, 2020 @4:21 AM

Article image
Chinese billionaire Xiao Jianhua 'abducted' from Hong Kong hotel
The reported disappearance of the financier, who has ties to Xi Jinping’s family, will ring alarm bells in the former British colony

Benjamin Haas in Hong Kong

01, Feb, 2017 @2:45 AM

Article image
Theresa May pledges to raise Hong Kong and human rights with China
Prime minister says she believes her relationship with Xi Jinping will allow her to talk thorny issues but defenders doubt her will or influence

Tom Phillips in Beijing and Jessica Elgot in Wuhan

31, Jan, 2018 @6:37 AM

Article image
Hong Kong democracy campaigners jailed over anti-China protests
Alex Chow, Nathan Law, and Joshua Wong given six to eight month sentences for roles in anti-government occupation known as the umbrella movement

Tom Phillips in Beijing

17, Aug, 2017 @8:27 AM

Article image
British Conservative party activist barred from entering Hong Kong
Benedict Rogers, deputy chair of party’s human rights commission, escorted on to flight out of former British colony

Tom Phillips and Benjamin Haas in Hong Kong

11, Oct, 2017 @9:50 AM

Article image
Hong and Kong? Berlin's panda cubs at centre of Chinese human rights row
Competition to name Meng Meng’s twins intensifies pressure on German government

Kate Connolly in Berlin

05, Sep, 2019 @3:34 PM

Article image
Hong Kong protesters go on trial as fight for democracy continues
Case highlights failure to honour promise of free elections, say campaigners

Suzanne Sataline in Hong Kong and agencies

18, Nov, 2018 @6:01 PM