“The Chinese government has kept chipping away at Hong Kong’s freedoms, and has stepped up these efforts in recent years,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “From publicly intimidating an academic for his peaceful speech to barring pro-democracy figures from public office, what emerges is a chilling offensive against basic rights in Hong Kong.”

Human Rights Watch wrote to Lam in June 2017, shortly after she was selected by a Beijing-controlled election committee, urging her to protect freedoms in Hong Kong from Beijing’s encroachments. Human Rights Watch received a response stating that the “contents are noted,” which did not address any of the substantive issues.

Since then the Hong Kong government has taken further steps to restrict fundamental rights guaranteed to citizens by Hong Kong’s functional constitution, the Basic Law, and international human rights law. These include: further unwarranted prosecutions of pro-democracy figures and an effort to exclude them from public office; an orchestrated rhetorical attack by Hong Kong and mainland authorities against an academic for expressing his peaceful opinion; growing interference with academic and publishing freedoms; and the possible introduction of a national anthem law that will infringe on free expression rights.

Human Rights Watch called on Lam to:

  • Lift political restrictions on the right to stand for elections and reopen the process for political reform, and communicate to Beijing that Hong Kong people support genuine universal suffrage;
  • Drop all charges against opposition leaders and pro-democracy activists for their peaceful activities;
  • Retract the government’s criticism of a professor for expressing his peaceful opinion, and reiterate the government’s respect for free expression;
  • Review instructions to textbook publishers and retract those that aim to censor political expression;
  • Withdraw the national anthem bill; and
  • Investigate the Hong Kong bookseller Lee Po’s alleged abduction from Hong Kong and the extent to which the Chinese government has interfered with publishing freedom in Hong Kong.

“Chief Executive Lam has repeatedly failed to defend the freedoms of Hong Kong people from heavy-handed Chinese interference,” Richardson said. “But it’s not too late for Lam to stand up to Beijing and defend Hong Kong people’s rights.”