2006 US human rights report: right to election in Hong Kong is limited by the Basic Law

Hong Kong people were limited in their ability to change their government, and the legislature of Hong Kong was limited in its power to affect government policies. Self-censorship remained a problem, as did violence and discrimination against women. Workers were also restricted from organizing and bargaining collectively.

Freedom of Speech and Press

Accusations of media self-censorship continued during the year. Most media outlets were owned by businesses with interests in China, making them vulnerable to self-censorship. The Hong Kong Journalist Association's 2005 annual report noted that there "is a continued perception that some sections of the media are engaged in self-censorship." In 2005 the University of Hong Kong conducted a public opinion poll that said that 50 percent of respondents believed the media practiced self-censorship.

In February four men broke into the offices of the Falun Gong-owned daily newspaper Epoch Times and destroyed a piece of machinery in the paper's print shop. Epoch Times had just opened the print shop a few weeks prior to the break-in after experiencing difficulties in hiring a local printing company. In 2005 the printing company that Epoch Times had been using refused to renew their contract, and the Falun Gong alleged the contract was canceled because the company feared business reprisals from its Chinese clients. In addition to printing its daily paper, Epoch Times used the new shop to print large volumes of their Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party, a series of editorials offering a critical history of the Chinese Communist Party. At year's end police investigators had collected evidence at the crime scene but had made no arrests in connection with the break-in. After brief initial reports in local papers, the incident received no follow-up media coverage, which some observers said was an obvious case of media self-censorship.

The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The right of citizens to peacefully change their government is limited by the Basic Law, which provides for the selection of the chief executive by an 800-person election committee (composed of individuals who are directly elected, indirectly elected, and appointed). The Basic Law provides for the direct election of only 30 of the 60 Legco members, and the inclusion of appointed members to the elected district councils. The approval of the chief executive, two-thirds of the legislature, and two thirds of Hong Kong's NPC delegates is required to place an amendment of the Basic Law on the agenda of the NPC, which, under the Basic Law, has the sole power to amend the Basic Law.

The Basic Law states that "the ultimate aim is the selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with "democratic procedures." Similarly, the Basic Law states that the "ultimate aim is the election of all the members of Legco by universal suffrage." However, in 2004 the NPC standing committee rejected universal suffrage in Hong Kong in the 2007 and 2008 elections.

The Basic Law substantially limits the ability of the legislature to influence policy by requiring separate majorities among members elected from geographical and functional constituencies to pass a bill introduced by an individual member. Another Basic Law provision prohibits Legco from putting forward bills that affect public expenditure, political structure, or government policy. Bills that affect government policy cannot be introduced without the chief executive's written consent. The government has adopted a very broad definition of "government policy" in order to block private member bills, and the president of Legco has upheld the government's position.

Women faced discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion. A survey released in 2004 found that nearly 80 percent of women workers believed they were victims of discrimination.

Domestic Violence

In August Permanent Secretary for Health and Welfare Sandra Lee told the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women Committee that the government would seek to strengthen the Domestic Violence Ordinance in the following three areas: extend the scope of coverage to include ex-spouses and ex-cohabiters; extend the criteria for attachment of a power of arrest to an injunction order to psychological harm; and increase the duration of the injunction order. NGOs said there was an urgent need to amend the law to make domestic violence a crime directly under the Domestic Violence Ordinance. The legislator representing the social welfare sector accused the government of doing too little to fight domestic violence.

The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law provides for the right to organize; however, it does not guarantee the right to collective bargaining. The 1997 Employment and Labor Relations (Miscellaneous Amendments) Ordinance removes the legal stipulation of trade unions' right to engage employers in collective bargaining. The ordinance bans the use of union funds for political purposes, requires the chief executive's approval before unions can contribute funds to any trade union outside of the SAR, and restricts the appointment of persons from outside the enterprise or sector to union executive committees. In a few trades, such as tailoring and carpentry, wage rates were determined collectively in accordance with established trade practices and customs rather than a statutory mechanism, but collective bargaining was not practiced widely. Unions were not powerful enough to force management to engage in collective bargaining. The government did not engage in collective bargaining with civil servants' unions.