On Tuesday July 23, the UK government published its 11th biannual report on Hong Kong. In the Foreword, the UK Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, stated that that the basic rights and freedoms afforded to the people of Hong Kong through the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law must continue to be upheld. Clearly referring to the Chinese government's interference and pressure on the Hong Kong authorities, Mr. Straw stated it is vital that this [Hong Kong's] autonomy continues to be respected. The report highlighted the on-going trial of innocent Falun Gong practitioners in Hong Kong and a number of incidents that were widely regarded as examples of the Hong Kong government's disregard for human rights when pressured by China. The report stated that there have been a number of controversial incidents related to the handling of the Falun Gong practitioners. On March 14, sixteen Falun Gong practitioners, including four from Switzerland, were arrested while appealing outside the Central Peoples' Government Liaison Office. All sixteen were charged with obstruction. The report explained how the Hong Kong government ironically later dug up pavement at the very spot where Falun Gong practitioners were arrested for obstruction. The SAR Government subsequently erected wooden barricades outside the CPG Liaison Office where Falun Gong had staged its daily appeals.
A spokesperson for the Home Affairs Department said that the SAR Government was building a vehicle drop-off point and installing flower beds as part of a project to beautify the environment. Falun Gong practitioners complained that the SAR Government was trying to stifle their activities. They also alleged that the SAR Government had barred them from using government venues. The report pointed out that the British government believe that freedom of assembly and freedom of speech must not be compromised if Hong Kong is to retain its image as a free and open society. The report went on to highlight another incident of abuse: during the run-up to the celebrations for the fifth anniversary of the handover, at which Chinese President Jiang Zemin was to be present, Falun Gong spokespeople in Hong Kong claimed that nearly 100 overseas Falun Gong practitioners were denied entry to Hong Kong. The report stated that the UK government's view is that cases like these are likely to cast doubt on the SAR Government's commitment to the free flow of ideas, freedom of association, and ease of travel. The report noted the statement by the Hong Kong Journalist Association and ARTICLE 19 (Global Campaign for Freedom of Expression) that the environment for vibrant and healthy free expression, and a free press in Hong Kong has become hazy and more ambiguous and that there is a tendency by the authorities to permit the erosion of rights. Regarding the pressure the Chinese authorities have exerted on Hong Kong to enact an anti-subversion law, which could be used, according to Chinese Vice-Premier Qian Qichen, to make it illegal for Falun Gong members to maintain links with Falun Gong practitioners outside Hong Kong, the report stated that the UK government has made it clear to the Chinese authorities its views on these issues and that it is clearly essential that any legislation is consistent with international human rights treaties.
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