Former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten on Wednesday urged protesters not to “lose faith” over what he described as moves by Beijing to tighten its control over the territory.
Patten was governor when the former British colony was returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” framework that gives it its own legal system and more freedoms than on the mainland.
The territory has been rocked over the past year by huge rallies that have exposed deep divisions between pro-democracy Hong Kongers and the Chinese government in Beijing.
The protests began over a now-withdrawn bill that would have allowed Hong Kongers to be sent to the mainland for trial, and continued for more than seven months over police conduct and perceptions that Beijing is tightening its controls over the territory.
The demonstrations, which were largely peaceful at first, over the months descended into occasionally violent clashes between police and protesters. More than 8,000 people have been arrested.
“They shouldn’t lose heart. They shouldn’t lose their sense of dignity, and decency and moderation,” Patten said in an online interview organized by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong.
“I don’t think you can kill or lock up or tear gas into submission the idea of freedom,” said Patten, who helped negotiate the terms of the handover from Britain to China.
He has often been critical of developments in Hong Kong since then, saying that Beijing has contravened the terms of the agreement.
Hong Kong’s police force has been accused of excessive use of force during the demonstrations. Protesters have thrown Molotov cocktails in retaliation, and occupied streets and college campuses, turning them into battlegrounds against the police.
Patten urged people to “stand up for what they believe in” and to vote in legislative elections in September.
He criticized a report by the police watchdog that exonerated officers’ use of force and described the arrests of 15 pro-democracy activists on charges of unlawful assembly as “outrageous.”
“It’s a threat to Hong Kong’s autonomy and to the ‘one country, two systems,’” he said, adding that the arrests were an attempt to intimidate the rest of Hong Kong.
In response to Patten’s comments, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that Patten was instigating the young people of Hong Kong to continue to act like hooligans as “cannon fodder for political gain.”
“Chris Patten is a sinner of a thousand years who will definitely be nailed to history’s pillar of shame,” the statement said.
Patten on Wednesday also criticized Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥), saying that she was not performing her job with the “greatest integrity.”
“The government seem to be the mechanism through which the communist leadership in Beijing runs Hong Kong and makes its decisions. Carrie Lam will have to live with her conscience,” Patten said.
Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post yesterday reported that Beijing would announce a resolution for national security legislation in the territory that would ban secession, foreign interference and terrorism, citing unnamed sources.
The resolution would presented as a motion to National People’s Congress today, it said, adding that the proposed legislation would ban all seditious activities aimed at toppling the central government.
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