Hong Kong’s last colonial governor Chris Patten has responded to his critics after calling for the 1997 Public Order Ordinance to be reformed.

“I am reluctant to take lectures about the rule of law from people who stood idly by while people were abducted on the streets,” he said at a reception held by NGO Hong Kong Watch at Britain’s House of Commons on Tuesday. The event marked 21 years since the July 1 handover of the British colony to China.

Chris Patten Hong Kong watch london
Chris Patten. Photo: Hong Kong Watch.

In 2016, staff from Causeway Bay Books – known for selling political gossip titles banned in China – went missing, before showing up on the mainland and appearing in televised confessions.

Writing in response to the jailing of localist Edward Leung, Patten said in an op-ed last Tuesday that the Public Order Ordinance contravened the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Hong Kong was a signatory. He criticised the Justice Department and government, calling for the rule of law to be protected.

Leung was sentenced to six years behind bars in connection with rioting during the 2016 Mong Kok unrest.

On Tuesday, Patten added: “We picked apart that legislation which is totally unnecessary. It is not criticising the judiciary to say that.”

1997 handover
The 1997 Handover. Photo: GovHK.

His administration amended the ordinance in the 1990s, but the changes were reversed by the Provisional Legislative Council selected by the Chinese government in 1997.

An obligation

Patten also said that the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration – which paved the way for the 1997 Handover – continues to place obligations on China and the UK: “[I]t was bizarre to hear people saying that the future of Hong Kong is none of our business in Britain,” he said.

He added that Hong Kong Watch had played a significant role in ensuring that the British government remained educated about the city’s political situation since its launch last year.

eric lai civil human rights front london human rights watch
Eric Lai. member of Hong Kong’s Civil Human Rights Front. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

The event was hosted by British MP Catherine West, a patron of Hong Kong Watch. It was attended by academics and parliamentarians from both houses. It also heard speeches calling for universal suffrage in Hong Kong by Eric Lai – a member of Hong Kong’s Civil Human Rights Front – and student activist Cara Li.

Hong Kong Watch Chair Benedict Rogers called for greater autonomy and freedom in Hong Kong as the event was concluded: “We will redouble our efforts to stop the erosion of those freedoms. We will not stop until our work is no longer necessary – for as long as our voice and our support is needed, we will continue to be there for Hong Kong.”

Last year, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she “can’t exclude” the possibility that Patten could be barred from entering the city in the future.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.