A protester raises his umbrellas after riot police fire tear gas to disperse protesters in Hong Kong, on September 28, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

(New York) – Hong Kong’s incoming Chief Executive Carrie Lam should vigorously defend Hong Kong’s autonomy as guaranteed by the “one country, two systems” arrangement enshrined in the Basic Law, Human Rights Watch said in a public letter today. Many in Hong Kong have expressed their discontent with the failure of political reform and other issues through repeated protests since the handover.

July 1, 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s transfer from British to Chinese control, and the inauguration of Lam, who was selected  as chief executive of Hong Kong by a committee of 1,200 electors heavily influenced by Beijing.

“Fears of a militarized Chinese encroachment on Hong Kong have not materialized, but that doesn’t mean key human rights aren’t at serious risk in the territory,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Carrie Lam and other Hong Kong political leaders must use their position and power to resist Beijing’s pressure on the legal system, the press, and diverse political views – while they still can.”

The letter notes Beijing’s rhetorical attacks on the “one country, two systems” arrangement, repeated failures to honor pledges of democracy to Hong Kong, and inference in the territory’s press freedom and judicial independence. Human Rights Watch also highlights the Hong Kong government’s increasing harassment of opposition political parties and the deterioration in freedom of expression as a worrying trend. Human Rights Watch calls on Lam to:

Hong Kong Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam (R) enters a news conference with Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung (C) and Financial Secretary Paul Chan in Hong Kong on June 21, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

  • Use President Xi Jinping’s visit to Hong Kong in July to publicly assert that Hong Kong will retain control over all issues other than foreign affairs and defense;
  • Publicly challenge President Xi on issue of cross-border abductions and clarify the nature of cooperation with mainland security agents in Hong Kong;
  • Restart the political reform process by submitting to Beijing a report making clear the need for greater democratization;
  • Drop charges against protesters and pro-democracy leaders for their peaceful activities;
  • Approve the registration applications of pro-democracy political groups; and
  • Uphold press freedom and freedom of expression, and allow greater access to government events and facilities. 

“Since 1997, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong people have repeatedly taken to the streets over threats to education, political rights, and human rights abuses in the mainland,” Richardson said. “The new chief executive should recognize that her best chance to govern is to defend the rights and autonomy of Hong Kong to Beijing.”