The US, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands have asked the Chinese and Hong Kong governments to answer questions about the city’s freedoms at a regular review of human rights at the United Nations next week.

As part of China, Hong Kong’s situation is under review at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva next Tuesday. While most questions filed in advance by foreign countries were targeted at China’s situation, four countries asked specific questions about Hong Kong’s freedoms.

Simon Henderson, spokesperson for the coalition of Hong Kong civil groups monitoring the UPR process, told HKFP that before the last UPR meeting – conducted in 2013 – there was only one question in advance on Hong Kong, from Myanmar. “That is a significant change and demonstrates that the international community is watching Hong Kong closely and worried about what they see,” Henderson said.

Lee Bo
Lee Bo. Photo: Phoenix TV screenshot.

In the batch of advance questions for next week, the US asked: “What is China’s response to growing international concern about Beijing’s continued encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy, the abduction of individuals from Hong Kong, and growing restrictions on the freedoms of expression, association, and political participation in Hong Kong?”

The Netherlands filed a question to the Hong Kong government. It asked: “Which steps does Hong Kong intend to take to address international concerns about press freedom in Hong Kong and to ensure a safe and enabling environment for journalists to carry out their work independently and without undue interference?

Hong Kong bookseller Lee Bo was allegedly kidnapped from the city by mainland agents, as claimed by his colleague Lam Wing-kee. They were among five booksellers who went missing in 2015, before reappearing on the mainland in televised confessions.

Andy Chan and Victor Mallet
Andy Chan and Victor Mallet. Photo: Pool/SCMP.

The Hong Kong government has barred pro-democracy activists from running in elections, and recently banned the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party.

Last month, the Hong Kong government refused to renew a work visa for Victor Mallet, also the vice-president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong, after he hosted a luncheon talk at the club with independence advocate Andy Chan.

Germany asked: “How do the interpretations of the Hong Kong laws by the NPCSC ensure that freedom of press and opinion are upheld in consistence with the provisions under the Basic Law and the HKSAR Bill of Rights?”

Beijing has issued five interpretations of the Basic Law since the 1997 Handover. The latest one in 2016 demanded lawmakers take oaths of office sincerely, solemnly, completely and accurately. Hong Kong courts disqualified six lawmakers after the local government filed legal challenges against protests made during their oath-taking.

Meanwhile, Switzerland said that Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, had expressed his concern regarding the disappearance of booksellers in Hong Kong, including Swedish citizen Gui Minhai.

“What is his current status and will there be a public and independent investigation into the circumstances regarding the disappearance of booksellers?” Switzerland asked.

gui minhai
Gui Minhai appears on Chinese state TV. Photo: CGTN.

Gui, one of five Hong Kong-based booksellers known for publishing gossipy titles about Chinese political leaders, was arrested on a train to Beijing in January while travelling with two Swedish diplomats seeking medical help.

Asked about the questions from the four countries, Henderson said: “The international community is asking about substantive actions the government will take to ensure that journalists can operate in a safe environment, without undue interference.”

Henderson said he anticipated that there will be – for the first time – several recommendations raised by foreign governments on Hong Kong.

“That would be a substantial development, marking a shift in international attitudes towards Hong Kong. It would also show that the deteriorating human rights environment locally has harmed Hong Kong’s international reputation,” he said.

“Recent incidents, such as the decision not to renew Victor Mallet’s visa or the banning of the Hong Kong National Party, do not happen in isolation. Each case has greater impact internationally and I suspect we will see that reflected at the UPR hearing next week.”

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

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.