Fundamental freedoms are deteriorating in Hong Kong, according to an EU report

Arrestees of Hong Kong 47, a group of pro-democracy legislators, politicians, activists and community workers.

The situation of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong is gravely deteriorating. On July 6, 2023, lawmakers adopted an amendment to the law of District Councils, the last major political representative bodies chosen by the public, which further reduced democratic rights. This amendment marks a significant setback in the democratic progress of Hong Kong. However, the most alarming development is the extraterritorial application of the National Security Law for the first time, indicating a concerning expansion of its reach.

These findings are from the 26th annual report on developments in 2023, presented to the European Parliament and the Council on political and economic developments in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The report was adopted today by the European Commission and the High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell.

“The 2023 annual report illustrates in great detail the continuous erosion of the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and the dismantling of the ‘one country two systems’ principle. The political opposition in Hong Kong has been effectively excluded from elections. The National Security Law continues to be used to stifle dissent, including abroad. These developments undermine trust in the rule of law in Hong Kong and affect Hong Kong’s standing as an international business hub,” High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell said.

EU monitoring of the political situation

Since the handover of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, the EU and its Member States have been unwavering in their vigilance over political and economic developments in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region under the ‘one country, two systems’ principle. In line with the commitment given to the European Parliament in 1997, the European Commission and the High Representative issued an annual report on political and economic developments in Hong Kong.

This is the 26th report covering developments in 2023, demonstrating the EU’s steadfast commitment to monitoring the situation. The measures taken by the EU and Member States in response to the National Security Law in the Council Conclusions adopted in July 2020 remain in force, providing a sense of continuity and stability in the EU’s approach.

This package of measures included a review of the asylum, migration, visa and residency policy, extradition agreements, scrutiny and limitation of exports of sensitive equipment, observation of trials, support for civil society, the possibility of more scholarships and academic exchanges, monitoring of the extraterritorial impact of the law, and the refraining from launching new negotiations with Hong Kong.

Authorities target activists in Hong Kong and abroad

The electoral overhaul of the District Councils in Hong Kong reduced the number of directly elected members. It implemented an extensive vetting process for candidates, leading to no pro-democracy candidates qualifying for the District Council election. The National Security Law was applied extraterritorially for the first time, with wanted lists and bounties issued for activists residing overseas.

Trials against pro-democracy activists and media figures continued, including the high-profile cases of Jimmy Lai and the Stand News trial. The hearing schedule for the trial against the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, including activist Chow Hang-tung, had not been announced by the end of 2023. On a positive note, there were signs of progress in the rights of LGBTI+ people in Hong Kong, mainly driven by the judiciary.

The annual report highlights the deteriorating fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong and underscores the substantial commercial links between the European Union and Hong Kong. With 1,550 companies, the EU remained the most significant foreign business community. The EU was Hong Kong’s third largest trading partner after mainland China and Taiwan.

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