'Climate of Fear' Before Polls Open in Vote for Legislators
(Hong Kong) - Human rights conditions in Hong Kong have deteriorated in the run-up to the legislative elections, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Elections for the 60-member Legislative Council will take place Sunday, September 12.
In a new 40-page report, Human Rights Watch details how politicians, journalists and voters have faced political intimidation and criminal threats, much of it apparently emanating from Beijing with the aim of skewing election results to favor pro-Beijing candidates. In April, the Chinese government announced unilaterally that it would not allow universal suffrage for Hong Kong's next election cycle in 2007 and 2008.
"The past 12 months have seen the most worrying attacks on free expression and association since the 1997 handover," said Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division. "This appears to be a direct result of Beijing's desire to control the political situation in Hong Kong."
Human Rights Watch said that the political climate has deteriorated for pro-democracy and human rights leaders following two large public demonstrations on July 1, 2003, and again on July 1, 2004, when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to oppose the rollback of civil liberties and basic freedoms.
The report, "A Question of Patriotism: Human Rights and Democratization in Hong Kong," also chronicles Beijing's intimidation of the media and efforts to coerce voters into supporting pro-Beijing candidates, particularly by challenging the patriotism of dissenters.
"These elections are an important test of Beijing's promise that basic rights and freedoms will continue in Hong Kong," said Adams. "Lately, Beijing has been failing that test."
Human Rights Watch said that the elections could have a major impact on human rights in Hong Kong because the Legislative Council has in the past been a battleground for rights protections. In 2003 the Hong Kong government, with the backing of Beijing, attempted to push through the legislature controversial Article 23 "anti-subversion" laws that did not meet international human rights standards and would have undermined basic freedoms in Hong Kong.
Human Rights Watch said that the past 12 months have seen a marked decline in the human rights situation in Hong Kong and that the toxic political climate created by Beijing's patriotism campaign has increasingly become the backdrop to threats of violence. Among recent incidents:
o In March two of Hong Kong's leading talk radio commentators, Albert Cheng Gin-hon and Raymond Wong Yuk-man, resigned from their jobs after they received threatening phone calls ordering them to stop broadcasting until after the September elections. After businesses they had invested in were vandalized, two broadcasters resigned within two weeks of each other. Another prominent political figure took over the broadcast booth, but also soon left the air after he said he was repeatedly approached by mainland officials unhappy with his work on the show.
o In mid-May, a number of Hong Kong voters phoned local radio shows to report they had been pressured to vote for pro-Beijing candidates. One caller said that he was told to take a picture of his ballot with his mobile phone, and that if he failed to do so, his business would suffer.
o Unknown individuals have vandalized the offices of some pro-democracy politicians, among them Emily Lau, Leung Yiu-chung and Ray Au. One legislator found the words, "All Chinese traitors must die," scrawled on his office wall. Some politicians have received threatening phone calls and letters, a number of which have threatened violence.
Human Rights Watch called on the Hong Kong government to promptly investigate these and other acts of intimidation, and to assure Hong Kong voters that they would not be forced to reveal their choices in the legislative polls. China should cease its intimidation of Hong Kong journalists and politicians, and it should return to its promised policy of "one country, two systems."
"Beijing has created a climate of fear among many in Hong Kong with its attacks on dissenters' patriotism and other forms of intimidation," said Adams. "Hong Kong people should not feel their jobs, families and safety are at stake for defending the human rights and basic freedoms that still distinguish Hong Kong from the mainland."