HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong hit back on Friday at Washington and London for condemning the arrests in April of 15 pro-democracy activists, saying that their criticism was “unfounded” and “grossly irresponsible.”
Police arrested the activists, including Democratic Party founder Martin Lee, 81, and millionaire publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai, 71, on 18 April, in the biggest crackdown on the pro-democracy movement since the outbreak of mass protests last year.
Foreign governments and human rights groups condemned the arrests, with Britain’s Foreign Office saying at the time that the right to peaceful protest was “fundamental to Hong Kong’s way of life” and authorities should avoid “actions that inflame tensions”.
In its strongest response to the criticism so far, the Hong Kong government said the remarks by the United States, Britain and the European Parliament were “totally unfounded and amounted to a serious intervention in Hong Kong’s affairs”.
“The allegation by some that those arrests amounted to an attack on Hong Kong’s freedoms ... is absurd and can hardly stand the test of any law-abiding jurisdiction,” a spokesman for the government said.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” style of governance that grants it broad freedoms, including the right to protest and an independent judiciary, not seen in the mainland.
Critics say Beijing is increasingly encroaching on those freedoms, which the central government rejects.
The 15 activists were arrested on charges of organising and participating in anti-government protests last year that crippled parts of the city and posed the gravest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus and measures adopted to curb its spread have seen a relative lull in protests this year, although smaller demonstrations have emerged in the past week amid renewed concerns over Beijing’s tightening grip on the city.
Fuelling those worries, questions have been raised in recent weeks over the role of Beijing’s institutions overseeing the city’s affairs - the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and Liaison Office.
The government said criticism over remarks by the offices “only illustrates an ignorance of the constitutional order” of Hong Kong.
Reporting By Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky