The limited ability of Hong Kong citizens to change their government, cases of arbitrary arrest and aggressive police tactics were fingered as the territory's biggest human rights problems in a US State Department report.
The annual report on human rights practices did not address the question of universal suffrage in the 2017 chief executive election. But it did criticise the Hong Kong government for taking "no steps to eliminate" the functional constituency seats in the Legislative Council. Beijing was expected to criticise the report. It slammed US consul Clifford Hart last year after he called for "genuine universal suffrage".
The 2017 poll and the 2016 Legco election are currently subject to a five-month government consultation. That has raised expectations for the reform of the functional constituency system before the 2020 Legco poll, which is supposed to be conducted by universal suffrage.
The report said pan-democratic parties faced "institutional challenges" that prevented them from gaining a majority in Legco and having their candidate elected chief executive.
"The voting process ensured pro-business representatives and government allies controlled a majority," the report said of Legco. "In addition, the central government and its business supporters provided generous financial resources to parties that supported the central government's political agenda."
The document said reports of arbitrary arrests during demonstrations and "aggressive tactics hampering the freedom of assembly" had raised concern.
"Some activists also alleged that police faced no penalty for making arrests that ultimately were not prosecuted or were dismissed … allowing them to use arrest to intimidate and discredit protesters," the report said.
It also cited concerns journalists were self-censoring and that editors were deferring to the perceived business concerns of their publishers.
The report came days after an attack on Kevin Lau Chun-to, whose removal as chief editor of Ming Pao last month raised concerns about media freedom. The attack on Lau was condemned by the US and the European Union.
The report on China also contained sections on Tibet and Macau. It said people-trafficking remained a problem in Macau.
Asked about the report, a Hong Kong government spokesman said universal suffrage for the 2017 poll was the "common aspiration" of the local and central governments. He did not address the matter of functional constituencies.
"The government reiterates that Hong Kong's constitutional development under the Basic Law is its internal affair," he said. "Foreign governments should respect this principle."