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SAR defends rights record

Vanessa Gould, Nelson Lee and Bryan Lee

Wednesday, February 28, 2001

THE

government yesterday rejected much of this week's US State Department

report on human rights in Hong Kong, saying its record was "much more

satisfactory than many parts of the world".

The report, part of the United States' annual worldwide human rights

review, criticises the inability of SAR legislators to influence

government policy and residents' limited democratic participation.

Judicial independence, freedom of association, expression and religion

are presented as broadly defended in the territory, but under threat

from mainland interests.

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It said the government's request to the National People's Congress to

reinterpret the 1999 right-of-abode ruling by the SAR's Court of Final

Appeal "raised questions about the potential future independence and

ultimate authority of Hong Kong's judiciary".

The report also highlights self-censorship by local journalists and

editors in relation to their China coverage, giving the example of

three newspapers that refused to print advertisements for the Falun

Gong movement, which is banned on the mainland.

It mentioned the demotion and eventual resignation of the South China

Morning Post's China editor Willy Wo-Lap Lam after alleged pressure

from the newspaper's management to "tone down" his China column.

It also commented on the Hong Kong iMail bringing back Larry Feign's

Lily Wong cartoon strip that "had been dropped abruptly by the SCMP

in 1995 after it implicated then-PRC Premier Li Peng in the sale of

organs from executed prisoners". The report mentioned the furore

among politicians, human rights activists and the media after comments

made by Hong Kong-based mainland officials that businessman would

suffer the consequences of dealing with pro-independence businesses in

Taiwan and that the SAR media should censor their Taiwan coverage.

The report also highlights Hong Kong's role as a transit point and

destination for human trafficking run by organised crime.

The report raised concerns about the effectiveness of the government

and independent watchdogs meant to monitor police, workplace safety,

labour rights and privacy. The Equal Opportunities Commission was

criticised for passivity in taking offenders to court, the power of

the Ombudsman to protect human rights was limited, and the Labour

Tribunal was reluctant to issue orders against employers.

SAR police were accused of violence against people in its custody and

intimidation of migrant workers.

"Human rights groups have called for a more independent monitoring

body [than the internally administered Complaints against Police

Office], noting long delays in hearing some allegations, the large

difference between the number of complaints received and the few that

are substantiated, the light punishment that police officers receive

when complaints are found to be substantiated, and the unwillingness

of some witnesses to pursue complaints for fear of retribution," the

report said.

It said police were accused of using "excessive force when they used

pepper-spray and hit demonstrators" to remove students and

right-of-abode demonstrators from government offices in June.

It reported violence against women in the home and workplace, and

discrimination against girls in the education system, the handicapped,

ethnic minorities and the elderly.

Last night the government remained adamant that supportive and

critical opinions of the government were freely reported in Hong

Kong's media. It maintained that "impartial and thorough"

investigations were conducted against police and were "subject to

close scrutiny by the Independent Police Complaints Council".

Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying said the police had dealt

with demonstrators better than those in other countries, a point also

made by local deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC) Chan

Wing-kee.

A government statement said Hong Kong's law-enforcement departments

spared no effort in preventing the territory from being used as a

migrant trafficking centre.

The US report said the SAR government protected religious freedom in

full, pointing out that the Falun Gong and other groups practised

freely and held regular public demonstrations against mainland

policies in the SAR.

`Evil cult' blamed: Page A9

Editorial: Page A10

vgould@hk-imail.com

kklee@hk-imail.com

bryanmh@hk-imail.com

All rights reserved.

END


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