Hong Kong freedoms continued to erode in 2022, despite promises, EU says

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s democratic principles, freedoms and autonomy continued to erode in 2022, despite China’s obligation to protect them, the European Commission said in an annual report.

Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 with the guarantee its freedoms would be protected under a “one country, two systems” formula for at least 50 years.

Critics say those freedoms have weakened swiftly, especially after the introduction of a national security law in 2020, months after sometimes violent anti-government and anti-China street protests.

The Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, has issued annual reports on the situation in Hong Kong since the 1997 handover.

“2022 saw the continuing erosion of Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and of rights and freedoms that were meant to be protected until at least 2047,” the Commission said.

“These developments cast further doubt on China’s commitment to the ‘one country, two systems’ principle,” it said.

“The year was also marked by the far-reaching implementation of the national security law. Trials of pro-democracy activists and politicians continued to intensify,” the report said.

Many people in Hong Kong are awaiting trial, including 47 pro-democracy activists who participated in a primary election, members of the now-disbanded Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, media tycoon Jimmy Lai and others.

“Many of them have been held in custody since January 2021, in some cases in solitary confinement. The colonial-era sedition law was repeatedly used in national security cases,” the Commission said.

China and the Hong Kong government have repeatedly defended the security law, saying it has succeeded in restoring law and order.

(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Nick Macfie)