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Carrie Lam

Greater transparency would ease concerns

Questions have been raised about the city’s autonomy and freedoms since the turning away of the British human rights activist, so it’s time for the government to provide more information on the case

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 1:14am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 1:14am

Hong Kong immigration authorities decide who can enter the city, in accordance with the principle of a high degree of autonomy and Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong. An exception is where Beijing invokes the power it retains over foreign affairs and defence to have someone denied entry. A case in point that has raised questions about the extent of the city’s autonomy and freedoms concerns the exclusion last week of British human rights activist Benedict Rogers. He is deputy chairman of the ruling Conservative Party’s human rights commission, but is not a member of the British parliament and has no official status. He is a former Hong Kong resident who lived and worked here for five years after the handover, and who has come and gone in the past without incident.

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What sets this would-be visit apart, to quote Rogers’ own words in a newspaper article, is that he had become “increasingly concerned about the erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms and the rule of law, and the threats to the ‘one country, two systems pledge’”, had hosted Occupy Central activists in London and inquired about visiting jailed Occupy activists in Hong Kong, although he says he later promised not to try to do so, after indirect warnings from the Chinese embassy in London that this posed a threat to Sino-British relations.

What he did not refer to in his article was his stated plan to set up a monitoring group to report on the city’s rights and freedoms and democracy. Beijing says Rogers intended to meddle in the city’s internal affairs. On the face of it his visit involved more than an exchange of views on the operation of “two systems”. In the post-Occupy world his plan to set up such an organisation could be expected to arouse Beijing’s suspicions. A joint expression of concern by 11 international lawyers that the jailing of the activists represents “a threat to the rule of law” would do nothing to allay its concerns.

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Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor declined to reveal details of the case, but pointed out that Hong Kong no longer controls immigration once Beijing deems it to involve foreign affairs. To many this does not explain why immigration officials could not have handled Rogers’ entry and questions about his intentions. Presumably Lam was briefed on the exclusion. Given that such a response leaves people in the dark on an issue involving the city’s core freedoms, and concerns about how it might be seen abroad, the government should provide more information. Hong Kong’s autonomy under “one country, two systems”, rule of law and freedom of speech and association have always been seen as fundamental to its competitiveness as an international city. Issues that can reflect negatively on it should be dealt with as transparently as possible.