Human rights in Hong Kong in rapid decline, global non-profit group claims in report

City’s branch of Amnesty International cites missing booksellers, Legco oath controversy, and government’s unwillingness to meet it as evidence

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2017, 2:35pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2017, 10:08pm

Hong Kong’s human rights situation is rapidly deteriorating, reaching its worst level since the former British colony’s handover in 1997 to mainland China, non-profit human rights group Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

The organisation released a report reviewing human rights in the city last year, and outlined major concerns over guarantees of Hong Kong’s rule of law, freedom of speech, and human rights education.

“Hong Kong’s legal situation is a cause for concern,” the report said. “Hongkongers’ human rights situation has violations on almost every front.”

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Last year, the city’s human rights situation was marked by the disappearance of four Causeway Bay booksellers and their televised confessions, Beijing’s intervention in the Legislative Council’s oath-taking controversy, and various violations of press freedom, according to the report.

“There are escalating cases of violence against reporters and there are very, very confined spaces for press freedom or freedom of expression,” Raees Baig, chairwoman of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said on Wednesday. “If we do not do anything or we do not have any response from the government, we can’t project whether we are going to get worse.”

Hongkongers’ human rights situation has violations on almost every front
Amnesty International report

While Amnesty met with the government in 2014 after releasing a report on migrant workers in the city, it said it had been unable to meet or get a response from authorities the past two years.

The government could not yet be reached for comment.

The non-profit group has sought to raise issues including the months-long disappearance on the mainland of the Causeway Bay booksellers, whose products cover sensitive material and are banned over the border. It has also expressed concern over Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s statement that authorities could quit the UN’s convention against torture.

“We are very disappointed,” Amnesty International Hong Kong director Mabel Au Mei-po said of the recent blunted attempts. She noted a“very big difference” in government responses in recent years.

The city’s rule of law reflected its core values and “what makes Hong Kong so special,” she added, claiming reinterpretations of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, were a cause for concern.

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During the Legco oath controversy, Beijing issued an interpretation of the Basic Law that facilitated the ouster of two democratically elected legislators. The chief executive also opened cases against lawmakers whom he determined had not taken their oaths of office properly and thus he violated judicial independence, the report stated.

In addition, it claimed various incidents reflected a provocative stance and violations of press freedoms and freedom of assembly. These included threats and harassment that local news agency Factwire received after its investigative report on the recall of defective mainland-made subway train carriages used in Singapore, and the police beating of a Ming Pao reporter despite his presenting credentials while covering the Mong Kok riot in February last year.

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The group also perceived instances of self-censorship, with broadcaster ViuTV deciding not to air an episode of its programme featuring two pro-independence guests.

And new media outlets in Hong Kong, including online organisations, still could not gain access to the government for interviews and press briefings, it argued, meaning the city was “lagging behind”.

Amnesty also highlighted the case of a former superintendent of a mentally disabled home not being prosecuted for the sexual assault of a woman under his care because she was considered unfit for trial.

The group has lobbied for anti-discrimination laws to protect individuals such as the woman in that case as well as changes that free victims from compulsory court appearances alongside those suspected of harming them.