Hong Kong’s Degree of Freedom Continued to Decline, Scored Just 42 Points out of 100

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Hong Kong’s political rights and civil liberties have further deteriorated, with the score provided by Freedom House, a U.S. NGO, showing it is going down repeatedly. In Freedom House’s latest Freedom in the World 2023 report, Hong Kong’s degree of freedom score is only 42 out of 100.

The latest report reviews Hong Kong’s situation in 2022. Hong Kong scored 10 out of 40 for “Political Rights” and 32 out of 60 for “Civil Liberty,” giving a total score of 42. It is still within the bracket of a “partially free” region, with a total score of just one point lower than the year before. Looking back at the previous year (2021), Hong Kong had 52 points. For other years it was 55 in 2020, 59 in both 2019 and 2018, and 61 in the 2017 report.

HK’s Score on Degree of Freedom Dropped 25 Points in 16 Years

In the 2022 degree of freedom report, Hong Kong dropped by nine points from that of the previous year, which was the third highest drop in the world that year, second only to Myanmar, which experienced a military coup, and Afghanistan, which was taken over by the Taliban. “Freedom House” also pointed out that in the past 15 years until 2022, Hong Kong’s total score on its degree of freedom report has dropped from 67 to 43, a huge drop of 24 points. This year it fell by another one point.

In the latest 2023 report, it is mentioned that after the implementation of the National Security Law (NSL) in Hong Kong in 2020, the authorities arrested representatives of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy faction. The charges or threats under the NSL have shut down major independent news media outlets, non-governmental organizations, and trade unions. The report also described the NSL as paving the way for Beijing to reform Hong Kong’s electoral system in 2021, allowing authorities to review candidates and ensuring Beijing’s near-total control over the selection of Hong Kong authorities. In 2022, the chief executive was elected for the first time under the new electoral system.

The scores of many sub-items in the report were like those of the previous year. Items with scores of zero include whether the incumbent head of government was elected through free and fair elections, whether legislative representatives were elected through free and fair elections, whether the electoral laws and framework were fair, whether the electoral commission was impartial, whether the opposition had an opportunity to gain support through elections or access to power, and whether government policy is determined by a freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives.

Freedom of Religion Score Drops Due to Churches’ Self-Censorship

The score for one of the items, “Whether individuals can freely practice and express their religious beliefs or no belief in public and private settings,” dropped by one point from last year’s full score of four points to three. The report cited evidence that authorities’ broader crackdown on dissent had prompted some religious institutions to exercise self-censorship in their preaching and other religious practices.

This rating also refers to the arrest last year of Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Bishop Emeritus of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong. “Freedom House” mentioned that at the beginning of last year (2022), party media “Ta Kung Pao” published an article accusing Zen and others of supporting the pro-democracy movement and destabilizing Hong Kong. By May, the National Security Police arrested Zen on the grounds of his participation in the “612 Humanitarian Relief Fund” (at that time, the National Security Police accused him of “conspiring with foreign forces or external forces to endanger national security”). But he has not been charged with the National Security Law and was instead convicted and fined for operating as an unregistered body.

With the drop in score of the sub-item on religious beliefs, the only one for Hong Kong to remain on a full score is “Whether an individual enjoys personal social freedom, including choosing a marriage partner and family size, protection from domestic violence, and control over one’s appearance.” However, Freedom House added that there is still no law in Hong Kong that recognizes same-sex marriage or civil unions.

The Washington Post Once Reported on Hong Kong Churches’ Self-Censorship

The Washington Post reported in May last year (2022), after interviewing 18 pastors and religious experts, that the Hong Kong churches exercise self-censorship and avoid appointing pastors who are considered to show too many political stances. The report quoted a study by the “Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement,” indicating that more than one-third of the churches are more inclined to adjust the content of their sermons in response to the political situation in Hong Kong. On the other hand, clergies in Hong Kong are rethinking the way they preach, aiming to balance their voice on social justice issues with the safety of their church and their families.

The report quoted documents that mentioned the Christian and Missionary Alliance had passed the mandate to split the church into different independent entities at the annual general meeting at the end of 2021. It quoted two people familiar with the matter as revealing that this move was aimed at preventing the entire organization from being disrupted in case the government decides to freeze its assets, causing the collapse of the organization. At the same time, it was reported that Hong Kong’s Evangelical Lutheran Church issued an internal memo stating that it would only appoint pastors who won’t make problems with the government.

An unnamed pastor was quoted in the report as saying that some church leaders would not order someone seen as problematic to leave but would “remind” and pressure the person(s) to go on his/their own accord. The report also mentions that on July 7, 2020, a week after the NSL came into effect, the Ta Kung Pao named 20 clergy members as “riot supporters.” At least five outspoken pastors, for fear of being arrested, left Hong Kong for the UK or Taiwan.

Rev. Dr. John Chan wai-on, Assistant Professor of the Department of Theology at the Alliance Bible Seminary, mentioned in an interview that pastors have stopped talking about politics in their sermons, and many churches are working on alternative plans to operate so that “all the eggs will not be poured all at once.”

Freedom House Said Last Year Hong Kong Experienced’ Accelerated Repression’

“Freedom House” also lists important events related to Hong Kong’s freedom in 2022, including John Lee Ka-chiu becoming the only candidate to pass the review, running for chief executive and being elected; Xi Jinping’s visit to Hong Kong on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong’s sovereignty, during which the Hong Kong authorities blocked protests, and some international and local media were unable to cover the event; the Secretary for Justice, Paul Lam Ting-kwok, ordered a trial without jury in the “Hong Kong 47 “case, and the trial had not started by the end of 2022; 5 members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists were convicted of publishing a children’s comic book, the Sheep Village series that the government branded as containing “incitement” content, which the prosecution said at the time it encouraged opposition to Beijing.

“Freedom House” issued a statement entitled “Repression Accelerating” on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong’s sovereignty last year (2022). Chairman Michael J. Abramowitz said that since the passage of the “Hong Kong National Security Law,” both the Hong Kong government and the CCP have deprived millions of Hongkongers of basic rights guaranteed under local and international laws. With the electoral system completely destroyed, pro-democracy activists arrested, independent media outlets forced to extinction, and restrictions on the internet imposed, all these are evidence that freedom has been crushed for the people of Hong Kong.

He also said governments of democratic countries should continue to enforce sanctions targeting those responsible for continued human rights violations in Hong Kong and support pro-democracy activists to escape the repression so they can continue to work in exile.

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