The US Department of State’s annual report on human rights has said that the Hong Kong and Beijing authorities restricted, or sought to restrict, the right to free expression in the city last year, particularly when it came to voicing support for Hong Kong independence.
The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2018 said that an independent press, an effective judiciary, and unfettered internet access meant freedom of expression was intact in most cases, but it highlighted many incidents that restricted civil liberties last year.
The report mentioned past incidents including the banning of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party, the de facto expulsion of Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet, the disqualification of lawmakers and candidates, and a libel suit launched by former chief-executive Leung Chun-ying against Stand News and scholar Chung Kim-wah among other matters.
It also cited attacks on academic freedom such as the non-renewal of lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai’s teaching contract by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, as well as the local government’s condemnation of law professor Benny Tai’s remarks on a hypothetical future in which Hong Kong may consider becoming independent.
In a section on the right to peaceful free assembly, the report said that the Hong Kong government prosecuted dozens of protesters, including several pro-democracy movement leaders, for crimes related to protests.
“Continuing government prosecutions of protesters… raised the cost of protesting government policies and led to concerns the government was using the law to suppress political dissent,” it said.
Meanwhile, the report said that, whilst Hong Kong continued to be viewed as relatively uncorrupt, there were isolated reports of government corruption throughout the year. In particular, it mentioned the jailed of ex-chief executive Donald Tsang for misconduct in public office.
A spokesperson of the Hong Kong government said “Foreign governments should not interfere in any form in the internal affairs of the HKSAR.”
“Since the return to the motherland, the HKSAR has been exercising a high degree of autonomy and ‘Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong’ in strict accordance with the Basic Law. The ‘one country, two systems’ principle has been fully and successfully implemented,” the spokesperson said.
“Human rights and freedom in Hong Kong are fully protected by the Basic Law, the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance and other relevant legislation. The HKSAR Government is determined to safeguard them.”