British government report highlights law enforcement in Hong Kong as a cause of concern

Using case of missing booksellers as an example, it urges Beijing to restore confidence in the “one country, two systems” policy to ensure the city’s autonomy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 October, 2016, 8:03am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 October, 2016, 8:03am

The British government’s latest report on Hong Kong raised concerns over the former British colony’s law enforcement, citing as an example the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers who later resurfaced under the custody of mainland authorities.

The report, issued on Wednesday, urged Beijing to restore confidence in the “one country, two systems” policy that ensured that the city enjoy freedom and a high degree of autonomy.

A Hong Kong government spokesman responded by saying that the city’s freedom had always been secure and urged “foreign governments” to stop interfering.

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In the foreword of the British government’s latest six-monthly report to parliament on Hong Kong, which covered the period from January 1 to June 30, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson expressed “specific concerns about the integrity of Hong Kong’s law enforcement”, which was separate from mainland China’s under the two systems policy.

“The case of Mr Lee Po and four others associated with the Mighty Current publishing house and Causeway Bay bookstore has generated widespread concern in Hong Kong,” Johnson wrote.

“As our previous six-monthly report said, Mr Lee’s involuntary removal from Hong Kong to the mainland constituted a serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration by undermining the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.”

The report concluded that authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing needed to take the necessary steps to restore confidence in the principle.

The report said it would be “essential that Hong Kong continues to enjoy, and is seen to enjoy, the high degree of autonomy and the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Basic Law and guaranteed in international law” by the declaration.

The five booksellers – made up of three Hong Kong citizens, one Swedish national and Lee, a British citizen – disappeared separately from Thailand, Hong Kong and Shenzhen from October to December last year.

They were later confirmed to have been detained by mainland authorities, with state-controlled television broadcasting their confession videos.

Four of the five have since returned to Hong Kong, including Lee.

In a response, a spokesman for the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs press office said the city had been exercising a high degree of autonomy in accordance with the Basic Law, a de facto constitution.

He said the law authorised the local law enforcement agencies to carry out their duties only in Hong Kong, and that enforcement bodies from the mainland and overseas are not authorised to act in the city.

He said the police had not discovered any evidence that showed the mainland enforcement authorities had acted in Hong Kong.

“The HKSAR government is firmly committed to protecting the freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” the spokesman said. “The media reports freely in Hong Kong and rigorously performs its role as a watchdog.

“Foreign governments should not interfere in any form in the internal affairs of Hong Kong,” he added.