Human rights

Stay out of Hong Kong’s affairs, government warns, after US report highlights ‘chilling effect on political protest’ in city

United States Department of State report referred to disappearance of tycoon Xiao Jianhua from Hong Kong hotel in January 2017 and the jailing of three student Occupy leaders including Joshua Wong

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 April, 2018, 2:43pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 April, 2018, 11:26pm

Foreign governments should stay out of Hong Kong’s internal affairs the city’s government has warned, after a US report raised concerns mainland Chinese authorities had encroached on the city’s autonomy.

The report on human rights practices, released by the United States Department of State on Saturday, said the most significant issues concerning Hong Kong were “a chilling effect on political protest and the exercise of free speech” caused by government actions and “central People’s Republic of China government’s encroachment on the Special Administrative Region’s autonomy”.

The Hong Kong government maintained the city had enjoyed a high degree of autonomy since its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 in accordance with the “one country, two systems” principle, which is widely recognised by the international community.

“Foreign governments should not interfere in any form in the internal affairs of [Hong Kong],” the statement said.

The report pointed out there were “renewed fears” that mainland Chinese security services “did not respect the [city’s] high degree of autonomy”, and referred to tycoon Xiao Jianhua who vanished from a luxury Hong Kong hotel in January 2017.

It claimed Xiao had been “abducted” by individuals suspected of being central Chinese government security service officers.

Chinese billionaire Xiao Jianhua’s all-female bodyguards ‘quite unusual’, say security experts

Hong Kong’s former security minister, Lai Tung-kwok, said in February last year there was no indication Xiao had left the city against his will or that mainland public security officers had acted beyond their jurisdiction.

However, as of June last year, central government authorities had still to respond to the Hong Kong government’s request for information about the case.

Sources earlier said Xiao could face trial in a Chinese court in May or June, although the charges he would face were uncertain. Xiao was linked to investigations into top-level bribery and market manipulation and had been caught up in the central government’s anxieties about financial and political risks.

The report also gave examples of how authorities had taken a hard line against protesters and activists, “which could have a chilling effect on political protest”.

Last August, three student leaders of the Occupy movement, Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Alex Chow Yong-kang and Nathan Law Kwun-chung, were jailed for storming the government headquarters – an act that triggered the 79-day sit-ins of 2014.

Prosecutors sought harsher penalties against them although they were originally given community service orders or suspended jail terms.

Wong and the other two successfully appealed against their jail terms in February.

Hong Kong’s security minister disagreed with the report’s findings.

“Such accusations are easily made and can be exaggerated,” Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu said on Saturday morning.

“Any prosecutions made were because they had violated Hong Kong laws, and are not related to their political beliefs or background. Those are not a consideration.”

Lee said that in past prosecution cases, there were people from both sides of the political spectrum, including those that were in support and against the government.

“If they call it a political prosecution, it’s not fair to the society, enforcement agencies, our courts, or even our judicial system. Prosecutions target whether behaviour has violated Hong Kong laws and political beliefs have nothing to do with it,” Lee said.