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Thu 3 December 2020

Following the arrest of campaigners under the new National Security Law, British parliamentarians condemn the Hong Kong Police’s response to their report examining breaches of humanitarian law and human rights by the force

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A UK parliamentary group has condemned the Hong Kong Police Force after the arrest of three activist Hong Kongers was reported to be related to the publication of its recent report on breaches of international humanitarian law by the force. 

The South China Morning Post reports that activists Agnes Chow Ting, Wilson Li Chung-chak and Andy Li were all arrested on 10 August. Police sources told the newspaper that the trio were suspected of being the “key members” in Hong Kong behind the activist group ‘Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong’. 

The force briefed local media that the arrests were related to a recently published report of the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Hong Kong. ‘Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong’ had sponsored the work of the London-based Whitehouse Consultancy to act as secretariat to the APPG, giving the firm around £72,000 to do so.

The APPG’s report, published on 4 August, detailed the breaches of humanitarian law and human rights by the Hong Kong Police Force, calling for the UK Government to impose sanctions on the island’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam and its Commissioner of Police. On 8 August, the US imposed sanctions on Lam and 10 other officials from Hong Kong and mainland China. 

The APPG’s co-chairs – Baroness Natalie Bennett and the Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Alistair Carmichael MP – issued a statement expressing their concern for the three activists arrested, and all those arrested under the new National Security Law in Hong Kong, which has been imposed by Beijing to criminalise collusion with foreign or external forces and secessionist movements. 

“Everyone peacefully standing up for human rights in Hong Kong is a hero and we are confident history will regard them as such, as it does many others who have done similarly around the world in the past,” they said. “We affirm that our report was completed according to the aims of the APPG, as set out on the register of these Westminster parliamentary groups, which include ‘to promote democracy and the rule of law, and to defend human rights in Hong Kong’. Funding for the APPG’s work is detailed on that register (and is indeed spelled out on the front cover of the report).”


Further Denial of Basic Rights

Following the report’s publication, the Hong Kong Government insisted that it had “no actual evidence with regard to the reasons for imposing the so-called sanctions against Hong Kong”.

It rejected the eyewitness accounts of police obstructing medical aid, and stressed that matters in Hong Kong were the internal affairs of China with no right for intervention under any pretext from any other state.

But the APPG’s co-chairs said that the Hong Kong Government’s response was “another denial of basic rights” including the right to freedom of expression under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They said it was also “a denial of the legal reality of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which gives the British Parliament, as the body that holds the British Government to account, a particular role in events in Hong Kong”.

They added: “Speaking freely is a right we expect in the UK, as around the world, and regard this as an attack not only on our group, but also on free speech around the world. Our work continues. We expect the next event of the APPG to be early in September, and to be producing further reports on the human rights situations and events in Hong Kong in the near future.”

Chris Whitehouse, founder of the Whitehouse Consultancy, said: “The Whitehouse Consultancy is proud to say it Stands with Hong Kong. We back pro-democracy campaigners 100% in their fight for freedom, they are our friends, and they can continue to count upon our support, no matter what reaction that provokes from the Chinese Communist Party.”


Treaty has ‘No Practical Significance’

The UK Government has not formally responded to the APPG’s report.

On 9 August, the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab issued a joint statement along with the foreign ministers of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US expressing their concern at the National Security Law and the disqualification of candidates and postponement of elections in Hong Kong.

The Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed in 1984, set out the special status for the former British colony ahead of its handover in July 1997. It established the “one country, two systems” principle, which saw a guarantee that Hong Kong would exercise a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years, with no change to socio-economic systems or the rights and freedoms of Hong Kongers. 

Despite this international treaty, which is registered with the United Nations, the Chinese Government has refused to back down on its exercise of power in Hong Kong. Since June 2017, the Beijing’s position has been that the treaty is a historical document with no practical significance. 

The freedom of the press has also come under attack by the National Security Law. On the same day as the arrest of the three activists, the Hong Kong Police Force arrested media mogul Jimmy Lai, founder of the pro-democratic newspaper Apple Daily, and two associates. Police raided the paper’s newsroom and seized journalistic material. The paper has filed writs for the material to be returned. 

The police allege that Lai is linked to ‘Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong’. Lai denies the allegations. The six arrested have been released on bail. 


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