A former pro-democracy lawmaker in Hong Kong says people there have become “distressed” and “disillusioned” as some fear the city has lost important freedoms.
Emily Lau, a former Democratic Party member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, said some Hong Kongers now fear that “we probably have lost our freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of demonstration maybe not forever, but for many, many years.”
“And that’s how distressed and how disillusioned the Hong Kong people are,” Lau told CNBC’s Martin Soong on Tuesday.
Beijing bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature to implement a national security law last year. Last month, China approved sweeping changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system that critics said would hold back pro-democracy politicians.
Those moves followed months of pro-democracy protests in 2019 that sometimes turned violent. Chinese and Hong Kong authorities have said the changes would safeguard national security and quell anti-China movement in the semi-autonomous region.
Hong Kong is a former British colony that was returned to Chinese rule in 1997. The Sino-British Joint Declaration signed prior to Hong Kong’s return stated that the city would have “a high degree of autonomy,” including legislative and independent judicial power.
“Rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief will be ensured by law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,” the declaration said.
Dozens of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong have been arrested and charged under the national security law. But Lau said: “I refuse to allow myself to be intimidated into silence.”
“We want China to keep the promises of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law,” she said, adding that she and other activists are not seeking to overthrow the Hong Kong government or the central government in Beijing.
The Basic Law is Hong Kong’s mini constitution that enshrines the principle of “one country, two systems” used to govern the city.
Beijing, on its part, has said that the national security law and electoral changes in Hong Kong are in line with the “one country, two systems” framework.