UN examines Hong Kong human rights separately from China's for the first time

South China Morning Post

Britain, France, Canada and Australia ask the city and Beijing to protect freedom following British journalist's denied work visa, and cancellation of mainland writer's talk at Tai Kwun

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HKSAR Chief Secretary for Administration, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung (L) and Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Le Yucheng (R) attend the Universal Periodic Review of China before the UN Human Rights Council on November 6, 2018, in Geneva.

Member states of the United Nations have asked Hong Kong's government and Beijing to uphold human rights and freedom in Hong Kong. The warning from Britain, France, Canada and Australia places Hong Kong's international reputation in danger, civil society groups said today.

Hong Kong’s United Periodic Review Coalition spokesman Simon Henderson said the move showed the international community was changing its foreign policy towards Hong Kong. He said the warning was a clear message to Hong Kong officials to change direction, instead of always denying that there was a problem.

This is the first time, in at the UN council's five-year review meeting, that any major UN states have suggested ideas about how Hong Kong can change. China and Hong Kong can agree to accept the suggestions, or just read them and do nothing. The report will be signed off in March next year.

Many small things have caused these nations to worry about Hong Kong's freedom. Just today, the Hong Kong arts centre Tai Kwun cancelled a talk by world famous Beijing critic Ma Jian, after he said he had been unable to find a publisher in Hong Kong to print the Chinese version on his latest novel. Local writers say they think the cancellation was due to political pressure. Freedom of speech is one of the freedoms in Hong Kong that is under pressure. 

Last month the immigration department denied a work visa renewal for British journalist Victor Mallet, who in August moderated an event at the Foreign Correspondents' Club which included a talk by pro-independence activist Andy Chan Ho-tin. Pro-democracy activists were also disqualified from the city’s Legislative Council or barred from running during the reporting period. 

Last week, Shanghai-born political cartoonist Badiucao cancelled his first international solo exhibition due to be held in Hong Kong. Event organisers said he had had threats from Chinese authorities. His artwork is critical of China's leaders.

Answering the concerns, Hong Kong’s delegate to the UN hearing, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, said they were “unwarranted, unfounded and unsubstantiated” and stemming from “a lack of understanding”.