British politicians have raised concerns at the UK Parliament over the conviction of nine Umbrella Movement leaders, as well as the proposal to amend Hong Kong’s extradition laws whereby suspects could be sent to mainland China for trial.
Parliament held an urgent debate for almost 40 minutes on Wednesday, with 20 MPs from six political parties asking questions about Hong Kong’s freedoms and the status of the city’s rule of law.
The debate was called by Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat, who criticised the prosecution and conviction of the nine pro-democracy activists for public nuisance.
“Using the criminal justice system and public order offences in this way is an abuse of fundamental and internationally protected human rights,” Carmichael said.
Minister for Asia Mark Field MP declined to directly comment on the case, as sentences will not be handed down until April 24. But he cited a recent statement by the UK foreign secretary by saying that “Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy is being reduced” on civil and political freedoms.
“It would be deeply concerning if the ruling discourages legitimate protest in future or discourages Hong Kong citizens from engaging in political activity,” Field added.
Carmichael responded by saying that the convictions were not an isolated incident. He mentioned the abduction of Hong Kong booksellers, the banning of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party, and last year’s expulsion of Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet.
Carmichael also said the Hong Kong’s proposal to change its extradition laws was not only feared by political activists, but also by businesspeople, who could be in danger if the change goes ahead. He was one of five MPs to raise concerns over the proposal.
Fiona Bruce MP said the proposed changes would fundamentally undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and destroy business confidence in Hong Kong.
“Is it not in all our interests, especially business, to defend Hong Kong’s freedom, autonomy and rule of law, which underpin its status as an open, international financial centre?” she asked.
Field said the UK was seriously considering the implications of the changes and recommended more time for a full and wide consultation.
“[I]t is important that any changes to extradition arrangements from Hong Kong to mainland China must respect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and cannot and must not affect the rights and freedoms set out in the [1984 Sino-British] joint declaration,” he said.
Stephen Gethins MP said judicial independence was critical to commercial investment in Hong Kong and was in the interests of China.
He asked Field if the UK government had sought any reassurances over China’s commitment to Hong Kong’s autonomy and judicial independence during trade talks.
Field said Hong Kong would be towards the top of the list in potential free trade agreements after the UK leaves the European Union.
“We have made it very clear to China that one of the reasons we want one country, two systems to be properly promoted is that it is very much in the interests of China’s plans for its own economic development in the years to come,” Field said. “[W]e should not deny that human rights issues will remain extremely important as far as our own commitment to one country, two systems is concerned.”
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