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Hong Kong Basic Law

Tell UN of ‘thwarted’ universal suffrage goals and ‘retrogression’ in Hongkongers’ political rights, Bar Association urges government

Influential lawyers’ group highlights nine areas where protection of human rights has fallen short, saying that should be reported to UN Human Rights Council

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2018, 6:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2018, 9:25pm

The Hong Kong government should tell the UN that its universal suffrage goal for residents has been “thwarted” and also explain how it intends to “address [their] political aspirations”, an influential lawyers’ group has said.

The Hong Kong Bar Association made these points in a 14-page paper addressed to the government, for its submission to the UN Human Rights Council’s “universal periodic review” of human rights situations around the world.

The association, the professional body for barristers, highlighted nine areas where the protection of human rights in the city had fallen short, with one of its examples being the “retrogression in the enjoyment of political rights” by residents.

In its last submission for the 2013 review, the government stated an “ultimate aim” for universal suffrage in electing both the city’s leader and its Legislative Council members, with this intended to apply to last year’s chief executive election.

But in August 2014, China’s top legislative body laid down a decision that only two to three candidates could be put up, by a nomination committee of 1,200 people.

The National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s (NPCSC) move sparked 79 days of massive protests later that year known as the Occupy movement

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The following year, Legco voted down an electoral reform package based on Beijing’s decree, and election process stayed the same as it was in 2012.

The association’s paper, dated May 7, urged the government to state if it had any “measures to redress the widespread public disappointment and frustration” of residents, adding that the current election arrangement “impinges on the right of [Hong Kong] residents to vote and right to stand for elections”.

Its points were in response to the government’s request for input on the submission, which will be included in China’s written report ahead of the third review for the country, expected to take place this November. The association was one of 53 groups or individuals to respond to the consultation.

It also highlighted two examples of interference in residents’ political rights. One was how pro-independence candidates or those espousing self-determination had been barred from running in elections, even though they had recanted earlier statements and submitted written pledges to uphold the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.

Among them was Agnes Chow Ting of Demosisto, whom the returning officer deemed unqualified to stand in the Legco by-election on March 11 for a Hong Kong Island seat.

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The association said it regretted the introduction of what was effectively a “political screening process … which is not regulated by any fair, open, certain and clear procedure”.

It also wanted the council to be aware of “restrictive crowd control” measures that the police had increasingly been deploying on demonstrators, including during Occupy.

It urged the government “to make an open commitment to the council to eschew such disproportionate and excessive use of force on demonstrators in future which would only aggravate public feelings of resentment and frustration”.

On the issue of freedom of expression and academic freedom, it asked that the government clarify its views on whether Hongkongers were “permitted to engage in certain political speech or discussion, such as discussion on topics of self-determination, in exercise of their fundamental rights”.

It drew attention to how legal academic Benny Tai Yiu-ting was categorically condemned by the government after he said in Taiwan that following the end of “dictatorship” in China, various ethnic groups and regions could choose to exercise their right to self-determination by deciding how to link up with each other.

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Shortly after, a former chairman of the NPCSC’s law committee, Qiao Xiaoyang, said any discussion of “Hong Kong independence” was a question of national security and not freedom of expression.

The association said: “HKBA is of the view that ‘self-determination’ is a familiar topic in academic discussion and any such discussion whether in the academia or by members of the public constitutes an exercise of the right to freedom of expression which is constitutionally guaranteed.”