Mourning Hong Kong’s Democracy

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Former Hong Kong legislator Nathan Law arrested by police when he and others protested against President Xi Jinping’s visit to the city in 2017 to mark the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover to Chinese rule, June 28, 2017.
© 2017 Sipa via AP Images

July 1, 2022 marks the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s transfer of sovereignty from British to Chinese rule, and the city’s authorities will celebrate with an official ceremony and visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

This curated image belies the Hong Kong government’s repression. National Security police intimidated the League of Social Democrats, the territory’s last active pro-democracy political party, into abandoning plans to protest. They also appear to be holding the group’s chairman, Avery Ng, under arbitrary house arrest. Even the release of results from a public opinion survey about the handover is being postponed under police pressure. The government has barred some media from covering the ceremony, while police set up a labyrinth of barriers to make sure Xi will see no sign of dissent.

When Beijing assumed sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997, it promised to respect the city’s freedoms – a guarantee enshrined in the territory’s functional constitution – and rights protected in the Basic Law, and under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

But Beijing broke that promise. When the people of Hong Kong escalated protests to demand their rights, Beijing imposed a draconian National Security Law on the city, put top pro-democracy leaders behind bars, transformed the legislature into a rubber stamp, and dismantled the city’s free press and civil society. It appointed a policeman with an abusive past as the next chief executive. Outgoing Chief Executive Carrie Lam says, “Hong Kong is as free as ever,” but international rankings show it plummeting to 148th worldwide in respect for human rights and press freedom.

Yet Hong Kong people are still resisting. This week, after pro-Beijing groups draped public housing estates in a sea of Chinese flags, some residents risked arrest by covering them with white or black cloth signifying mourning, graffitiing them, or taking them down.

They also posted sarcastic comments online. One showed a photo of the British Queen visiting Hong Kong surrounded by excited children and entitled it, “Hong Kong children brutally suppressed by the British Queen.” Netizens commented on the photo, saying how “Hong Kong was so poor [during British times] we didn’t even have … metal barriers all over the place like now! Grateful for the Chinese Communist Party!”

Concerned governments should avoid these official handover events and not risk legitimizing Beijing’s insults to Hongkongers. Instead, they should publicly show their support for Hong Kong people’s steadfast struggle for human rights.

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