Hong Kong police arrested opposition figures, accusing them of organising and participating in an unlawful protest that occurred last year. These arrests followed months of massive protests, in which millions participated to express their dissatisfaction concerning China’s moves to assert control over Hong Kong’s internal affairs. For Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) this move is a clear violation of universal human rights and EU fundamental values.
With the attention of the international community firmly focused on measures to counter the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hong Kong authorities, doubtless under pressure from Beijing, seized the opportunity on Saturday 18 April 2020 to arrest fifteen leading pro-democracy activists, including Martin Lee, who is regarded as the ‘father’ of the movement, and Limmy Lai, founder of Apple Daily, the principal pro-democracy journal.
These arrests are in breach of the international human rights agreements signed by Hong Kong, its Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration, on which the polity and freedoms of the former British colony are based.
On 21 April, Members of the European Parliament, Malik Azmani and Hilde Vautmans of the Renew Europe Group posed a parliamentary question to the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The MEPs asked three pointed questions. The first being “does the VP/HR agree that this move violates the universal value of freedom of expression, and therefore needs to be condemned in a public statement?” The second, “the British, American and Australian governments have expressed their concerns regarding this matter: will the VP/HR contact them to form a diplomatic front to address this issue?”. And finally, the MEPs asked, “will the VP/HR engage with the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to ensure that it protects basic rights such as the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression?”
At the same time, on 30 April 2020, Spanish Representative in the European Parliament Jose Ramon Bauza Díaz of the Renew Europe Group, sent a parliamentary question to the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative Borrell inquiring “what measures are being envisaged by the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative and the European External Action Service to halt these politically motivated arrests in Hong Kong?”, and “what measures are being or will be adopted to preserve civil and political liberties in Hong Kong as China ramps up the pressure?”
On 9 July 2020, Vice President Borrell replied to the MEPs questions on behalf of the European Commission. He reported that “after the multiple and coordinated arrests of pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong on Saturday 18 April 2020, the European External Action Service (EEAS) reacted quickly through the Spokesperson”. He confirmed that “the EEAS recalled that an independent judicial system, operating free of political influence and consideration, is a cornerstone of Hong Kong’s autonomy under the “one country, two systems” principle and is protected by the Basic Law” and “this was carried as our official reaction in the South China Morning Post”. He also gave reassurance stating that “the EEAS is also committed to follow closely these cases”.
Mr Borrell went on to emphasize that “the EU has a strong stake in Hong Kong’s continued stability and prosperity with a significant number of EU companies based in Hong Kong around half of which are using Hong Kong as their regional headquarters or regional offices. The “one country, two systems” principle, and its implementation, including an independent judicial system, operating free of political influence and consideration, is essential to continue to maintain the attractiveness and uniqueness of Hong Kong, and safeguard its strategic economic role. European messages to respect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and “one country, two systems” principle are passed regularly to both Hong Kong and Beijing’s authorities at all levels”.
High Representative Borrell reported that he also spoke on the topic during the Strategic Dialogue with State Counsellor/Foreign Minister Wang Yi and by the Presidents of the European Commission and the European Council during the 22nd EU-China summit. In closing, Mr Borrell stated that “the EU will continue to follow developments around these issues with the utmost attention’.
The new National Security Law in Hong Kong, imposed by the Chinese Communist Party, has drawn international condemnation. The arrests of pro-democracy supporters and human rights activists are a purposeful attack on the international human rights agreements, freedom of expression and press freedom endorsed by Hong Kong.
China intends to oppress and silence any dissidents in it ambition of removing Hong Kong’s autonomy and the European Union can no longer stand on the sidelines and watch the oppression continue.
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