The United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand have accused China of carrying out a “concerted campaign to silence all critical voices” after it imposed new rules disqualifying elected members from Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.
In a joint statement on Wednesday, the foreign ministers of the so-called “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing group also said the decision was a “clear breach” of a Sino-British pact that guaranteed Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, rights and freedoms for at least 50 years after the UK returned the city to Chinese rule in 1997.
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Hong Kong expelled four opposition legislators last week after China’s parliament passed a resolution allowing the city’s government to bypass the courts and disqualify any member of the legislature deemed to be endangering national security.
Such acts include advocating for Hong Kong’s independence, refusing to recognise Chinese sovereignty over the city and colluding with foreign forces, according to Chinese state media.
The move triggered the mass resignation of all of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy legislators, leaving the mini-parliament with virtually no opposition voice.
“The disqualification rules appear part of a concerted campaign to silence all critical voices following the postponement of September’s Legislative Council elections, the imposition of charges against a number of elected legislators, and actions to undermine the freedom of Hong Kong’s vibrant media,” the five allies said in the statement.
“For the sake of Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity, it is essential that China and the Hong Kong authorities respect the channels for the people of Hong Kong to express their legitimate concerns and opinions,” it said.
“We urge the Chinese central authorities to re-consider their actions against Hong Kong’s elected legislature and immediately reinstate the Legislative Council members.”
There was no immediate comment from China. But it has previously denounced foreign criticism of its actions in Hong Kong as interference in its internal affairs.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp has been under pressure since late June when China imposed a national security law in the territory that punishes secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in jail.
Three opposition politicians were arrested on Wednesday for incidents in May and June, in which they threw foul-smelling liquids inside the legislative chamber, while several others were arrested earlier this month in response to another chaotic legislative meeting on May 8.
Hong Kong’s government also postponed September’s legislative elections by a year, citing the coronavirus pandemic – a move the pro-democracy camp condemned as an attempt to thwart their efforts to build on their landslide victory in district elections a year ago to secure a majority in the mini-parliament.
The crackdown followed huge pro-democracy protests that rocked Hong Kong last year.
Authorities have removed pro-democracy books from libraries, banned some protest songs and slogans, and arrested about two dozen people under the new law, including staunch Beijing critic and owner of the popular Apple Daily newspaper, Jimmy Lai.
The US has imposed sanctions on top Hong Kong officials, including the Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the city’s current and former police chiefs.
US President Donald Trump has also ordered an end to Hong Kong’s special trading status, and halted its extradition treaty with the city. The UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand have also suspended their extradition treaties with Hong Kong.