Hong Kong: Pro-Democracy Activists

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 10th April 2019.

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Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I seem to be here to discuss either this area, the middle east or, indeed, Turkey, a debate to which I was responding in Westminster Hall earlier today.

I emphasise at the outset both to the right hon. Gentleman and to the House that the UK Government are acutely aware of our enduring responsibilities to Hong Kong. We were a joint signatory to upholding the joint declaration between the UK and China some 35 years ago, and the joint declaration is of course lodged with the United Nations. As such, we remain absolutely committed to monitoring and ensuring the faithful implementation of the joint declaration and the principle of one country, two systems. I reassure the House that we clearly and consistently raise our concerns with the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities. Parliament is updated on developments in Hong Kong through our six-monthly reports submitted by the Foreign Secretary, the most recent of which was published on 27 March. We always stand ready to comment publicly and robustly when appropriate.

Yesterday, the Hong Kong courts gave their verdict on the nine key figures in the Hong Kong Occupy movement. The protesters were arrested after large-scale protests in 2014. Each was found guilty of at least one public nuisance offence, and such offences carry a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. We shall have a better understanding of the severity of the sentence, and therefore the signal that the decision purports to send to others who choose to exercise their rights under Hong Kong’s Basic Law and Bill of Rights, once sentences have been handed down. Sentencing is due on 24 April, and the defendants have the right to appeal. It would therefore not be appropriate to comment further or in detail on the ongoing legal cases, but suffice it to say that this is a potentially protracted legal process that may take years rather than months.

I have visited Hong Kong twice as a Foreign Office Minister and have held meetings with a number of senior legal figures. On my most recent visit in November, I raised the issue of the rule of law directly with the deputy chief justice, as well as with representatives from the legal, political and business communities. All staunchly defended the independence of the judiciary and it remains our position that Hong Kong’s rule of law remains robust, largely thanks to its world-class independent judiciary. Many Members will know that Baroness Hale, Lord Hoffmann and others are part and parcel of the panel that is based in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong citizens are guaranteed the right to freedom of assembly and demonstration under the Sino-British joint declaration of 1984 and the Basic Law, and it is essential that those rights are properly respected in a democracy. Hong Kong’s success and stability depend on its high degree of enduring autonomy and its respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the joint declaration and the Basic Law. The Foreign Secretary recently pronounced that he was

“concerned that on civil and political freedoms, Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy is being reduced.”

It would be deeply concerning if the ruling discourages legitimate protest in future or discourages Hong Kong citizens from engaging in political activity.