US-backed NGO Freedom House has decreased Hong Kong’s score in its annual freedom index for the third year running on Tuesday. The report, entitled Democracy in Crisis, gave the city a score of 59 out of 100 – equal to Fiji and below Burkina Faso. In 2017, the city’s scored dropped from 63 to 61.

The report has three numerical indicators with a rating of 1 being the “most free.” Hong Kong was awarded a freedom rating of 3.5 out of 7  and scored 5 out of 7 in political rights. The city scored 2 out of 7 for civil liberties. Overall, it was rated as “partly free.”

The NGO gave Hong Kong a “downward trend” arrow: “The Communist Party leadership in Beijing exercised ever-greater influence in Hong Kong as it attempted to stamp out growing public support for local self-determination. Four pro-democracy lawmakers were expelled from the legislature on the grounds that their oaths of office were ‘insincere,’ making it easier for pro-government forces to pass major legislation and rules changes,” it said.

Freedom in the World 2018
Photo: Freedom House.

“In addition, the government obtained harsher sentences against three prominent protest leaders, and the Chinese legislature annexed a law criminalizing disrespect of the national anthem—which is often booed by Hong Kong soccer fans—to the territory’s Basic Law, effectively compelling the local legislature to draft a matching measure.”

Democracy threatened

Regionally, Japan received the highest score of 96 out of 100, followed by Taiwan’s 93 and South Korea’s 84. China received 14 points and was listed as “not free.”

The NGO’s President Michael J. Abramowitz said: “Political rights and civil liberties around the world deteriorated to their lowest point in more than a decade in 2017, extending a period characterized by emboldened autocrats, beleaguered democracies, and the United States’ withdrawal from its leadership role in the global struggle for human freedom.”

Freedom in the World 2018
Photo: Freedom House.

“The autocratic regimes in Russia and China clearly recognize that to maintain power at home, they must squelch open debate, pursue dissidents, and compromise rules-based institutions beyond their borders. The citizens and leaders of democracies must now recognize that the reverse is also true: To maintain their own freedoms, they must defend the rights of their counterparts in all countries. The reality of globalization is that our fates are interlinked.”

He wrote that Beijing has “built up a propaganda and censorship apparatus with global reach, used economic and other ties to influence democracies like Australia and New Zealand, compelled various countries to repatriate Chinese citizens seeking refuge abroad, and provided diplomatic and material support to repressive governments from Southeast Asia to Africa.”

“Moscow often plays the role of spoiler, bolstering its position by undercutting its adversaries, but the scope and depth of Beijing’s activities show that the Chinese regime aspires to truly global leadership.”

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.