China ‘manipulated’ coronavirus pandemic to force through new authoritarian Hong Kong law

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The former British colony has maintained its autonomy from Beijing since 1997 when the UK handed Hong Kong back to mainland China. But this year, the Communist nation introduced a new security law viewed as an attempt to end Hong Kong’s independence.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has condemned the new security law, which came into effect at the end of June, and said the UK would have no choice but to offer up to three million residents a route to UK citizenship.

Human rights activist Philip Baldwin claimed the Chinese government used the coronavirus pandemic to manipulate the situation in Hong Kong and push through the new legislation.

Speaking to the, Mr Baldwin said: “I don’t think we would have the same situation we have in Hong Kong had it not been for the coronavirus.

“The Chinese government really manipulated the situation there, in that people who had been protesting extensively in 2019 weren’t allowed out because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Then suddenly this authoritarian law was introduced.

“I think we still need to do everything we can to protect the people of Hong Kong as much as possible.”

Hundreds of people did gather outside the SOGO shopping centre on June 30 to protest against the new legislation, which criminalises secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference.

At least two people were arrested while protesting the law with police saying they violated the new National Security Law.

The new law was drafted behind closed doors by members of Beijing’s top lawmaking body, the National People’s Congress (NPC), bypassing Hong Kong’s own elected legislative council.

People who are convicted of such crimes can face sentences up to life in prison.

Mr Baldwin claims other authoritarian governments have exploited coronavirus lockdown measures to diminish human rights.

He said: “I think there has been an increase in human rights abuses generally since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

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“I think the pandemic has had a large part to play in this.

“Across the world, we have seen unprecedented restrictions on civil liberties because of the coronavirus.

“It is a pattern many authoritarian regimes have used throughout the pandemic.”

Although Mr Baldwin acknowledged mass demonstrations could spread the deadly virus more easily, he claimed there has been a “wave of legislation” curtailing the right to privacy, fair trial and limitations on the freedom of the press.

Mr Baldwin also referred to the situation in Hungary with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán who pushed to end legal recognition for transgender people back in May.

The activist also claimed there has been a rise in right-wing political parties across Europe in Germany and Poland.

Mr Baldwin said: “Many countries such as France, Spain and Italy have high levels of unemployment even before the pandemic and this has been a problem across the whole of Europe.

“Going back to the financial crisis, Europe has had less capacity to intervene in international affairs.

“Even looking at Germany, which is perceived to be wealthy and liberal, they are approaching a time of transition as Angela Merkel is standing down as Chancellor in the future.

“Like Hungary and Poland, in Germany there has been a rise in right-wing political parties.”

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