The Hong Kong government warned foreign administrations on Thursday not to interfere in its internal affairs after an annual US human rights report cited police brutality, arbitrary arrests and restrictions on freedom of expression in the city.

The 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, issued by the US Department of State on Wednesday, said that the Hong Kong government has resisted widespread calls for a special inquiry into accusations of police brutality that took place during the recent pro-democracy protests.

Police arrest protesters on CUHK campus. Photo: Stand News.

Protests erupted last June over a now-axed extradition bill. They have escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid anger over Beijing’s encroachment.

The report said citizens and experts had complained about excessive force used by the force to disperse crowds or make arrests during the demonstrations. One example cited was the Prince Edward MTR incident, where baton-wielding police were filmed storming into the train station, deploying pepper-spray and making arrests.

Complaints over arbitrary arrests were also highlighted. But the report said it was difficult to identify officers who might have violated the guidelines, as many of them did not show their warrant cards during operations.

“The government’s apparent unwillingness to criticise the police force for its actions related to protests, including the force’s delayed response to a large July 21 vigilante attack on protesters and commuters, led to concerns that the police force operated with some degree of impunity,” the report read.

Photo: May James/HKFP. 

Limitations on civil liberties – including freedom of expression, association and press freedom – were highlighted in the report as another significant human rights issue in Hong Kong.

Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong’s disqualification in the District Council Election last November was cited as an example of a restriction on free speech in the political arena.

In terms of press freedom, the report said that, while the press in Hong Kong “expressed a wide variety of views,” self-censorship and suspected controls on content continued, especially in reporting about Hong Kong independence. Clashes between members of the press and the police and protesters were considered a hindrance for journalists in performing their duties.

A journalist after being hit by pepper solution. Photo: Tam Ming Keung, Kaiser/USP United Social Press.

In response, the Hong Kong government rejected remarks made in the report, warning that “foreign governments should not interfere in any form in the internal affairs of the HKSAR.”

A government spokesperson slammed the allegations of political censorship, restriction of the freedom of speech or deprivation of the right to stand for elections as “totally unfounded,” while adding that such freedoms are “not absolute.”

“The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that restrictions might be imposed by law if this is necessary to protect, amongst others, national security, public safety, public order or the rights and freedoms of others,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.