The Hong Kong authorities have expanded the use of the national security law “beyond genuine national security concerns,” UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has said in a regular report on the state of the city, expressing disappointment over Beijing’s “ongoing state of non-compliance” with an agreement signed by China and Britain in 1984.
The Hong Kong government expressed its “strong” disapproval of the report, which was published by the UK government on Monday, saying it “firmly rejected the groundless attacks, slanders and smears against the HKSAR” contained in the document.
Published every six months, the report depicts changes in different sectors, including the legal and electoral systems, with the latest covering events from January 1 to June 30.
“This newly expanded report clearly evidences how China is breaking its promises,” Cleverly wrote, referring to commitments laid out in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and saying Hong Kong’s legal system was “at a critical juncture”.
Cleverly continued: “Hong Kong’s courts remain independent, but they are having to adjudicate on an opaque NSL that places the authority of the Chief Executive on security matters above that of their own.”
“Everyone tried so far under the NSL has been found guilty,” Cleverly also said in the report, adding that “[t]he targeted persecution of people with dissenting views persists, including overseas.”
On July 3, Hong Kong national security police issued arrest warrants for eight self-exiled activists, including former lawmaker and activist Nathan Law and veteran unionist Christopher Mung Siu-tat, both of whom currently reside in the UK.
“We will not tolerate any attempts to intimidate and silence people in our country, ” Cleverly said in the report.
Denied requests to visit Jimmy Lai
In the report, the UK’s foreign secretary also mentioned the Hong Kong government’s bid to ban 2019 protest anthem Glory to Hong Kong, the landmark national security trial involving 47 democrats, and the long-delayed trial of media tycoon Jimmy Lai, adding that prosecution against Lai was “highly politicised”.
Cleverly raised the issues of Lai and Xinjiang when he visited Beijing in late August and held talks with Chinese Vice-President Han Zheng and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Xinjiang is home to the predominantly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group, who have been targeted in what Beijing claims is a campaign to tackle unrest and separatism. A 2022 UN report into human rights abuses in the region found credible torture allegations and possible crimes against humanity. Several western countries have imposed sanctions over Beijing’s actions.
The UK has repeatedly requested consular access to Lai, who holds British citizenship and has been detained since December 2020. The 75-year-old media tycoon faces three charges: two counts of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces under the security law, and one offence linked to allegedly seditious publications.
“[Access to Lai] continued to be denied by the Hong Kong authorities on the basis that they do not recognise dual nationality, and therefore do not recognise his British nationality, ” the report said.
In response, the Hong Kong government issued a statement on Monday night condemning UK’s “groundless attacks, slanders and smears against the HKSAR”.
“The HKSAR Government strongly disapproves of and firmly rejects the UK’s attempt through a so-called six-monthly report again to make misleading and irresponsible remarks about Hong Kong matters,” a government spokesperson said.
“The UK’s manoeuvre with politics prevailing over law-based administration is glaringly obvious,” they added, urging the UK government to stop interfering in Hong Kong matters.
The spokesperson also said that the national security law “has enabled the livelihood and economic activities” in Hong Kong to resume as normal, and restored the business environment.
The statement also mentioned Britain’s new national security bill, which passed in July.
“The UK has no right and no qualification to make scandalous accusations against the measures taken by the Central Authorities and the HKSAR Government to safeguard national security when it just does the very same thing,” the government spokesperson said.
The UK report also mentioned Hong Kong’s recent overhaul of its District Council electoral system, that reduced the number of directly elected seats from 452 to 88.
The Hong Kong government slammed the UK’s statement, saying the electoral system had been “improved” to ensure the full implementation of “patriots administering Hong Kong”.
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