A Decade After its Return to China: Human Rights in Hong Kong
26 June 2007 7:00 pm
As the 10 year anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule approaches, civil society plans its annual pro-democracy march. Despite the promise of the “one country- two systems” policy, freedom of assembly and expression is continuously being denied in Hong Kong.
According to the Civil Human Rights Front, the organiser of the annual Hong Kong pro-democracy march on 1 July, Hong Kong police are attempting to limit the march to three hours and only open one traffic lane instead of the usual three.1 As this year’s march marks the 10th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule, it is a time to evaluate how the handover has impacted the region’s human rights record. Unfortunately, the Chinese government’s promise to ensure a “One country – two systems”, which would maintain the previous freedoms that the region enjoyed such as the freedom of assembly, speech and press, has been far from reality.
A survey released on 10 February 2007 by the Hong Kong Journalists Association finds that over 50% of journalists think that press freedom in Hong Kong has deteriorated since its return to Chinese rule, mostly due to “self-censorship and the government’s tighter grip on the flow of information.” 2 In April 2005, Hong Kong reporter Ching Cheong who was a correspondent for Singapore's "Straits Times" was arrested by mainland Chinese authorities on charges of leaking state secrets.3 Despite the solidarity action taken by the Hong Kong Journalist Association, ARTICLE 19, the International Press Institute, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders calling for his release, Ching Cheong was sentenced to five years in August 2006.4
Also, in 2002, Amnesty International condemned Hong Kong authorities for using excessive force to clear a group of peaceful demonstrators.5 On 25 April 2002, a group of 200 people rallying in support of 5,114 people stripped of their right to reside in Hong Kong and on the verge of being forced to return to mainland China, was oppressed by more than 350 police and immigration officers.6 Later that year on 12 August, a group of Falun Gong practitioners who were also peacefully protesting outside the Liaison Office of Central People’s Government in Hong Kong were forcibly removed by Hong Kong police using violence and brutal tactics. As the abuse of police authority continues to be a threat to people’s right to peacefully assemble, the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Human Rights issued recommendations regarding reforms on police complaint procedures and therefore seeking better accountability of Hong Kong police. 7
Despite the mainland’s promise to ensure the freedoms and rights that the Hong Kong people enjoyed while still under British rule, the human rights situation seems to have worsened during the past decade. There is little difference from the situation in mainland China when it comes to the ensuring the right to free press and peaceful assembly. Hong Kong authorities should be urged to promote the human rights of the people especially as the 1 July anniversary approaches.