Tens of thousands of protesters attend an annual pro-democracy march in Hong Kong amid bookseller's safety fears on July 1, 2016. Protesters hold photos of Lam Wing Kee, one of five booksellers who went missing last year after publishing books critical of China's leaders. The case of the booksellers have raised international concerns that Hong Kong's judicial independence and freedom of speech were being eroded. Photo: P.H. Yang

Hong Kong saw a decline in its score on freedoms in 2017 from last year amid Beijing’s intervention, according to the latest report published by Freedom House, a United States-based non-government organization.

The former British colony’s aggregate score on freedoms fell to 61 out of 100 this year, two points down from a year ago, the report showed. Indonesia was unchanged at 65, while the Philippines slipped to 63 from 65 for the same period. A score of zero means the country is least free.

Although the “partly free” Hong Kong has seen its score staying higher than China (15) and Singapore (51),  it remains lower than India (77), South Korea (82), Taiwan (91) and Japan (96).

“Hong Kong received a downward trend arrow due to Beijing’s encroachment on freedoms in the territory, reflected in the detention by mainland authorities of five Hong Kong booksellers, and shrinking journalistic and academic independence,” said the report.

The central government’s unilateral reinterpretation of the Basic Law last November in an apparent bid to exclude pro-independence and pro-democracy lawmakers from the Legislative Council is also dragging Hong Kong’s score down on freedom.

Last September, six localist candidates, who campaigned on a platform of self-determination for the territory, won in the elections of the 70-seat Legislative Council.

Hong Kong received a downward trend arrow due to Beijing’s encroachment on freedoms in the territory

The National People’s Congress in Beijing issued an unusual interpretation of the Basic Law in November, aiming at barring two localists from taking their seats in the LegCo. This interpretation was unlike previous ones as it was undertaken without a request from the Hong Kong government. 

Five Hong Kong booksellers at Causeway Bay Books resurfaced in early 2016 after their disappearance in late 2015. Lam Wing-kei, one of the five, told Hong Kong media that they had been in the custody of mainland police due to their involvements in publishing and distributing books that were critical of China’s leaders.

The case raised concerns about civil liberties and the rule of law in Hong Kong, as it suggested that residents were vulnerable to punishment in the mainland’s politically controlled justice system for actions taken at home, according to the report.

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