Hong Kong responds to UK call to repeal security law

Hong Kong authorities on Friday denounced the British government’s call to repeal a Chinese-imposed national security law that Britain says has been used to harass, “silence and discredit” pro-democracy opposition figures.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverley wrote in his government’s latest six-month report on Hong Kong that he highlighted at a UN hearing in February how the Hong Kong authorities used the security law to crack down on opposition figures, many of whom are in jail or forced to leave the country.

Cleverly urged Beijing to implement recommendations contained in an independent UN Human Rights Council report last July, including the “repeal of the National Security Act” that Beijing imposed on the former British colony in 2020.

The Hong Kong authorities said in a statement that they “strongly denied, strongly disapproved and strongly rejected the slanderous remarks and malicious political attacks.”

A Hong Kong government spokesman said the UK should “stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs, which are purely China’s internal affairs.”

The spokesman said the Hong Kong security law brought stability after the massive pro-democracy protests in 2019, and that while Hong Kong laws guarantee certain individual rights, “such rights and freedoms are not absolute” when it comes to safeguarding national security.

The UK referred in its report to the erosion of the rule of law in Hong Kong, including the transfer of “powers once held by the judiciary” to Hong Kong’s pro-Chinese leader, and the inability of those facing national security charges to challenge government decisions in the courts.

“We, along with our partners, condemn the steady erosion of Hong Kong’s civil and political rights and autonomy,” Cleverley wrote in the preface to the report.

Among those who have been persecuted, Cleverly mentioned jailed media mogul Jimmy Lai, who faces a national security trial in September, and said he took Lai’s case before Chinese Vice President Han Zheng this month.

Lai, 75, founded the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, which was raided by police and shut down in 2021.

The UK returned Hong Kong to China in 1997 under an agreement guaranteeing its freedom for at least 50 years.

Although relations between London and Beijing have been strained since Beijing introduced a national security law, a senior British official visited Hong Kong this month, the first such visit in five years.

© 2023 Thomson Reuters.