'There’s nothing to celebrate in 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover' says exiled activist

ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward provides political context as Hong Kong marks 25 years since Britain returned the city to China

Hong Kong activist and politician Nathan Law Kwun-chung has been at the forefront of advocating for Hong Kong's democracy.

Back in 2016 when he was just 23-years-old he was elected the city's youngest ever legislator - before being arrested.

Now living in exile in the UK, he has written for ITV News on how the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover is not a celebration but instead a day to "mourn."

Beijing marks the 25 years since the handover of Hong Kong to China as a significant event.

Yesterday, the Chinese leader Xi Jing Ping left mainland China for the first time since the start of the Covid pandemic and arrived in Hong Kong to host ceremonies.

He travelled through the landmark high-speed railway and was greeted by a group of citizens, students and high-level officials of the city.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) portrays a scene of massive celebrations in Hong Kong for this remarkable day.

Yet, most Hong Kong people feel the opposite.

It's a tragic day for them.

Riot police gather face off with demonstrators near the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, back in 2019. Credit: AP

Looking back five years ago, when President Xi visited Hong Kong, hundreds of thousands of people marched for the annual July 1st rally and chanted for the hope of democracy.

The now disbanded pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily reported how disturbing the security arrangement of Xi's visit was.

I initiated an occupation action with other activist groups a few days before the anniversary at the Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai to protest the deterioration of freedoms in Hong Kong for the past two decades.

To repeat these scenes on the 25th anniversary is unimaginable.

Rallies are cancelled for alleged public health reasons but, in fact, political ones.

Many independent news outlets are disbanded due to the fear of persecution.

Chinese and Hong Kong flags are displayed at a residential building to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong handover to China. Credit: AP

The ranking of Hong Kong in Reporters Without Borders' annual index on press freedom has plummeted from 73rd to 148th place in these five years.

Today, Wan Chai is free from protests and filled with Chinese and HKSAR flags because most protest groups are dissolved as a result of political pressure and the mass incarceration of political campaigners.

In Xi's speech upon his arrival in Hong Kong yesterday, he praised the current status of Hong Kong as "reborn from the ashes" and "as long as we stick to the 'one country, two systems' framework, Hong Kong will certainly have a brighter future."

The understanding of Hong Kong people is the exact opposite – the promises of Beijing have never been delivered, and Hong Kong is in ruin.

Exhibition marking the 25th anniversary of the former British colony's return to Chinese rule. Credit: AP

The transfer of sovereignty 25 years ago was based on the intentional treaty the Chinese regime signed with the UK, which guaranteed Hong Kong people to enjoy freedom, autonomy and a gradual process toward democracy.

These are the cornerstones of the "one county, two systems" framework, and any governance of Hong Kong deviating from these principles should be seen as a failure.

The respects given to Hong Kong people's human rights and civil liberties are the genuine parameters of whether the framework works well. In this regard, Beijing has been performing exceptionally terribly.

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When the former and current Chief Executives and other city leaders receive President Xi and the delegations, more than a thousand political prisoners are sitting in Hong Kong's prison cells, and hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers relocated due to the worsening political reality.

Millions of Hong Kong people marched on the street in pursuit of democracy, yet only nightmares of brutal persecution have welcomed them.

The Hong Kong we used to know, with a vibrant civil society and political diversity, has gone under the CCP's dictatorship.

Today is not a day to celebrate - It's a day to mourn and grieve for the city we love.