The UK Foreign Office has charged the Chinese government of forcing Hong Kong into a dark and uncertain future by systematically stripping its people of basic political, economic and cultural rights.
Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, said that the gravity of the situation has led him to begin consultation with the Lord Chancellor on whether British judges should continue sitting on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal.
The foreign secretary also reiterated that the arms embargo to China and the territory will remain in place.
The UK Foreign Office report’s monitoring of repressive measures in the territory comes as three prominent activists were placed in custody in a court case, and warned by the authorities that they can expect prison sentences for taking part in unauthorised protests outside a police station last year.
Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam can be jailed for up to five years under new national security laws over charges of illegal assembly and inciting others to take part in the demonstrations.
Before going into court Mr. Wong said: “I am persuaded that neither prison bars, nor election ban, nor any other arbitrary powers would stop us from activism.”
More than 10,000 protesters have been arrested over Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, many on charges of rioting and unauthorised assembly.
Around 30 people have been detained since last summer under a new national security law. Last Saturday a radio host, Wan Yiu-sing, his wife and personal assistant were arrested for organising a fundraising drive to support young people who had fled to Taiwan.
The UK government holds Beijing to be in breach of its international obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the former British colony and says it cannot be reactivated while the crackdown continues.
The report into the state of play in the joint declaration will be deposited in parliament by Mr. Raab.
Mr. Raab says in the document that “the chilling effects of the national security law can already be seen in Hong Kong as it is already reducing the extent to which the people of Hong Kong are able to exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms.
“It has damaged freedom of expression in academia, schools and libraries, including through the removal of textbooks and other books containing certain political content.
“It has been used as the basis for a raid on a leading Hong Kong newspaper and the arrest of its owner.
“Hong Kong police regularly threaten arrests under its provisions in response to the chanting or display of political slogans during demonstrations: uncertainties about how the provisions in the law might be used in future are reportedly having a wider chilling effect on the exercise of freedoms through encouraging self-censorship. Beijing is effectively trying to dismantle the election system in Hong Kong,” says the report.
“I have also been deeply concerned at the authorities’ undermining of the Hong Kong legislature. This has involved the disqualification of 12 opposition candidates, including four incumbent legislators, from standing in elections for the Legislative Council. This was then compounded by the postponement of elections, and the recent apparently politically motivated arrest of seven serving and former pan-democratic legislators”, says Mr. Raab.
The report holds that Beijing is eroding domestic trust in Hong Kong and trust of the international community at a time of imperative global action over the coronavirus pandemic.
“The world’s focus on a global pandemic requires enhanced trust in government and international cooperation: Beijing’s unprecedented move risks having the opposite effect,” it says. A number of countries have condemned the Chinese actions, with the US imposing sanctions on Chinese officials.
The UK is expected to follow with sanctions on up to half dozen individuals: the European Union is looking at a range of measures.
Last week the “Five Eyes” group of intelligence sharing states – the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – criticised suppression of dissent after the disqualification of elected legislators. (Source: Independent UK)