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why human rights eroded so dramatically in the past two years

Writer : Eric Yan-ho Lai, Hong Kong Legislation Fellow, Heart for Asian Legislation, Georgetown College; PhD Candidate in Legislation, SOAS, College of London

July 1 marks the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British colonial rule to the Individuals’s Republic of China.

The restrictions on how the anniversary is being held are symbolic of how a lot issues have modified in Hong Kong up to now few years. A number of main media shops are blocked from overlaying the anniversary ceremony attended by China’s president, Xi Jinping, drones have been banned from town and political activists have been instructed by town’s nationwide safety police to not protest.

The previous two years have seen important modifications in Hong Kong’s freedoms. Nationwide safety police have arrested greater than 180 main activists, journalists, students, clergy and atypical residents up to now 23 months. Greater than 68 civil society organisations and media shops have determined to shut down for security causes and worries about political penalties. And in January 2022, lawyer Chow Dangle-tung was sentenced to 15 months in jail for serving to organise an annual vigil, commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Sq. protests in Beijing.

Twenty-five years in the past, some observers hoped China would experiment in giving Hong Kong freedoms that weren’t accessible on the mainland. It was additionally anticipated to be a mannequin for Taiwan’s reunification with China. The Chinese language authorities initially determined to manipulate Hong Kong utilizing the “one nation, two methods” coverage, permitting Hong Kong’s current methods and methods of life to stay after the handover in 1997. This included a free-market economic system, unbiased courts and legal guidelines safeguarding primary political rights.

Nonetheless, up to now two years, Hong Kong’s rule of legislation and political freedoms have been considerably eroded by the intensive use of a China-imposed nationwide safety legislation to make it simpler to prosecute protesters and giving Beijing extra authority over Hong Kong. It has additionally launched a brand new electoral system that has stripped Hong Kong of most of its opposition politicians. China has additionally diminished the variety of seats elected by the general public within the Hong Kong legislature, and residents calling for elections to be boycotted might now be sentenced to jail.

Learn extra:
Hong Kong: how China’s new nationwide safety legislation subverts the territory’s cherished rule of legislation

Considerably, the UN Human Rights Committee will evaluate Hong Kong’s implementation of the Worldwide Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in July.

As a part of the handover, China promised Hong Kong would have basic rights and freedoms underneath the ICCPR and different worldwide human rights treaties and revel in full democracy sooner or later.

Nonetheless, in June 2020, a 12 months after huge pro-democracy protests, China created a brand new nationwide safety legislation for Hong Kong. It included making crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with international forces punishable by a most sentence of life in jail, and permitting individuals who had been suspected of breaking the legislation to be wiretapped or put underneath surveillance. It gave China wide-ranging new powers.

Previous perspective

Even earlier than the handover, there was mutual mistrust between the Chinese language authorities and Hong Kong residents, partly because of the regime’s navy crackdown on scholar democracy protests in Tiananmen Sq.. The Chinese language authorities noticed Hongkongers’ assist for the scholars as a risk of subversion. In distinction, the individuals of Hong Kong believed that elevated democracy was the one technique to safeguard their methods of life and resist China’s harsh rule after the handover.

Red flags and the words Hong Kong on banners.
Human rights protections had been put in place as a part of the Hong Kong handover settlement between the UK and China in 1997.
Bob Henry/Alamy

In 1990, China revised the ultimate draft of the Primary Legislation, a constitutional-like doc for post-handover Hong Kong, which included rights to free expression and meeting, by prohibiting international political organisations from conducting “political actions” within the area, and banning political organisations establishing ties with international political organisations or our bodies.

At present, seven worldwide human rights treaties apply to Hong Kong, overlaying points equivalent to political freedoms, torture, ladies’s rights and rights of individuals with disabilities.

Native courts and civil society have been striving to construct on these rights in Hong Kong for many years. However the Hong Kong and Chinese language authorities have steadily eroded these protections. The Hong Kong authorities has repeatedly ignored the suggestions of the UN Human Rights Committee to amend the prevailing rule that criminalises peaceable meeting, in addition to an order that punishes people and teams making anti-government speeches. The Hong Kong Courtroom of Closing Enchantment has didn’t denounce these intolerant legal guidelines.

The reluctance of Hong Kong’s native authorities to enhance the authorized guidelines has sowed the seeds of authorized repression right now. The federal government ceaselessly makes use of these legal guidelines to arrest and cost peaceable activists, pro-democracy lawmakers and journalists.

Democratic rights disappear

The standing committee of China’s Nationwide Individuals’s Congress, the nation’s high legislative physique, has repeatedly used its energy to overturn the ruling of Hong Kong’s high courtroom or to affect ongoing constitutional evaluate instances. Through the 2019 protests in opposition to an extradition invoice that will ship legal suspects to China to be tried, the Chinese language authorities publicly criticised a Hong Kong courtroom ruling that stopped the native authorities utilizing its emergency powers to place an anti-mask legislation in place. In a big extension of its powers, Beijing declared the choice unconstitutional.

Because the Georgetown Heart for Asian Legislation noticed, the brand new safety legislation has undermined judicial independence, resulting in an erosion of the precept of a good trial in legal courts.

In March 2021, China additionally launched an election overhaul barring any significant opposition from operating in future elections. Observers see the drastic shift of Hong Kong’s political and authorized system as incompatible with the agreements China made 25 years in the past. Not like the early days of the handover, Hong Kong’s unbiased courtroom, civil society organisations and its semi-democratic legislature are unable to offer efficient checks on China’s authorities anymore. Hong Kong is now headed in direction of the elimination of town’s human rights establishments and the rule of legislation.


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