September 30, 2014

Chairman Menendez Urges Respect for Democratic Rights in Letter to Chief Executive of Hong Kong


NEWARK, NJ – U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent the following letter to Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying, calling on him to respect the rights of the people of Hong Kong to assemble peacefully and express their democratic rights and freedoms.

In the letter, the Chairman wrote: “Beijing has made numerous statements over the years about its commitment to the Basic Law and its intention to respect the promise of the Basic Law to provide the people of Hong Kong with a genuine say in their governance and future.  Yet the recent decision of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) and the suppression and intimidation of peaceful protestors and opposition media – decisions that have now led to the protests in the streets of Hong Kong – indicates that Beijing has reneged on the promises it made to the people of Hong Kong. As the Chief Executive of Hong Kong , I urge you to exercise your leadership to guarantee that your citizens, the people of Hong Kong, receive the full democratic rights and freedoms that they have been promised and which they deserve.”

The letter can be found below.

The Honorable Leung Chun-ying
Government House
Office of the Chief Executive
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
People's Republic of China

Mr. Leung,

I write today to express my grave concerns over current events in Hong Kong, including the use of tear gas and pepper spray targeting peaceful demonstrators gathered to call for the right of the citizens of Hong Kong to be able to choose their own representatives, and to urge you and your government to fully respect the rights of the people of Hong Kong to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, which are enshrined in the Hong Kong Bill of Rights. I share the concerns expressed by the Hong Kong Bar Association over what it characterized as “repeated, systematic, indiscriminate and excessive” use of tear gas this past weekend, and call on you to engage in a peaceful, lawful and legitimate process to engage the people of Hong Kong in determining their own future.

The roots of the current protests, I believe, lie with the decision of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) last month to prohibit the voters of Hong Kong from exercising their right to freely select nominees for the position of Chief Executive of Hong Kong.  It is a perversion of the concept of universal suffrage to say that the system endorsed by the NPCSC, which will only allow for candidates vetted and approved by Beijing, is the realization of aspirations of the people of Hong Kong for autonomous self-government, democratic governance, and genuine “universal suffrage” in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s Basic Law promised the people of Hong Kong that they would be able to elect their chief executive through “universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.”  Yet this new decision, which will allow the Election Committee of the Chief Executive to decide who can be placed on the ballot for election – including using such criteria as whether they “love the country and love Hong Kong”, which does not appear in the Basic Law – effectively undermines the spirit of the Basic Law and the commitments that China made when Hong Kong returned to its control.

These developments raise deep concerns about Beijing’s respect for basic human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong, including restricting the right to peaceful assembly which is enshrined in the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, the Basic Law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) . Under Hong Kong’s own laws no restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and that are necessary in the interests of national security or public safety and public order. Yet in early July, Hong Kong police briefly detained over 500 participants and organizers for their role in peaceful protests that called on the Hong Kong and central governments to deliver genuine democracy. The protesters were detained on a variety of charges – most for participating in, assisting, and organizing “unlawful assembly.” All were later released, but police said they will reserve the right to press charges against the organizers and alleged leaders.  Such suppression of the right to peaceful assembly and free expression – rights that are afforded the people of Hong Kong under the Basic Law and fully consistent with the “one country, two systems” – are deeply troubling.

There also appears to be a serious erosion of the freedom of the press in recent months that is likewise inconsistent with the Basic Law.  On August 28, 2014, the Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) raided the home of media business owner Jimmy Laiin connection with an investigation of his donations to pro-democracy legislators. According to Human Rights Watch, the investigation was triggered by complaints from pro-Beijing politicians after information about these donations was stolen by hackers from Lai’s computer systems and leaked to the media.  ICAC also raided the office of a democratic legislator shortly before the NPCSC’s announcement. And in July, Hong Kong’s House News, one of Hong Kong’s most popular independent media outlets known for its support of Occupy Central, closed after its owner released a letter saying he was “fearful” and citing political pressure from China.

Beijing has made numerous statements over the years about its commitment to the Basic Law and its intention to respect the promise of the Basic Law to provide the people of Hong Kong with a genuine say in their governance and future.  Yet the recent decision of the NPCSC and the suppression and intimidation of peaceful protestors and opposition media – decisions that have now led to the protests in the streets of Hong Kong – indicates that Beijing has reneged on the promises it made to the people of Hong Kong. As the Chief Executive of Hong Kong , I urge you to exercise your leadership to guarantee that your citizens, the people of Hong Kong, receive the full democratic rights and freedoms that they have been promised and which they deserve.

Sincerely,
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez

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