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Human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has a special status as a separate administrative region within the People’s Republic of China under the agreement reached in connection with the United Kingdom’s return of the former crown colony to China in 1997. The constitution that came into force thereafter, the Basic Law, the principle of one country, two systems. It was intended to give Hong Kong an independent position within China, with an independent political and legal system respecting basic human rights. At the same time, the Beijing National Congress was given the final right to interpret the Basic Law.

After widespread political protests against a draft extradition agreement with mainland China in 2019, a new national security law for Hong Kong was introduced in 2020. In 2021, large-scale changes were also implemented in Hong Kong’s electoral system. These two changes, both of which were implemented following a decision by the Beijing National People’s Congress, have had a particularly profound impact on the state of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Hong Kong. A gradual erosion of the one country, two systems principle has occurred and Hong Kong is increasingly moving toward authoritarian rule. This development is alarming and has drawn widespread criticism from a large number of countries, including Sweden, as well as international human rights organizations and civil society. The European Union and the United Nations have also criticized the development.

The new security law criminalizes separatist and subversive activities, as well as terrorism and collusion with foreign powers. The crime definitions are broad and the law gives authorities far-reaching opportunities to monitor suspects, restrict their freedom of movement, detain them, and conduct home searches. Life imprisonment is included in the penalty scale. Since the law was passed, more than 120 opposition politicians and Democratic activists have been arrested. Freedom of expression and the press deteriorated sharply. A large number of media companies, trade unions and civil society organizations, such as the famous Apple Daily, which is the largest trade union federation in Hong Kong and the umbrella organization of the Civil Human Rights Front, have been forced to stop their activities.

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Universal and equal suffrage does not exist. Changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system implemented in the spring of 2021 mean that the trend towards democratization of recent decades has now come to a complete halt. The new electoral system means, among other things, that the proportion of directly elected members of the Hong Kong Parliament (LegCo) has fallen further and that all candidates for LegCo membership must be approved by a special review committee, where representatives of the central government represent your de facto veto. There is now no real political opposition in LegCo. At the county level, more than half of the popularly elected opposition politicians have resigned as a result of the new rules and threats of prosecution.

And Hong Kong’s judiciary, which has traditionally been considered independent and well-functioning, has also come under heavy pressure from the new security law. The ambiguity of the law leads to legal ambiguity and gray areas. The final right to interpret the law rests with the National People’s Congress in Beijing. There were shortcomings in terms of legal certainty, for example during the years of detention. Hard to get bail. Courts can hear cases in mainland China.

Hong Kong is economically prosperous, but the income gap is large. According to the Hong Kong government’s Poverty Report 2020, about 24 percent of the population and just over 45 percent of Hong Kong’s retirees live below the poverty line (set at HK$4,400, equivalent to about SEK 5,500 per month) . Health care and education are accessible to all and of good quality.

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Hong Kong lacks legislation protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as regulations on how asylum seekers are treated. Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong often live in precarious situations.

Referring to the current epidemic restrictions, no demonstrations have been held since January 2020. The annual demonstration on June 4 to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre in both 2020 and 2021 was rejected. .