26th September 2023 – (Geneva) China has been pressuring countries to boycott a United Nations event in Geneva focused on media freedom in Hong Kong, according to a letter and statements from diplomats. The event, titled ‘Media Freedom in Hong Kong,’ is scheduled to take place during the UN Human Rights Council meeting. Among the speakers is Sebastien Lai, the son of Jimmy Lai, an ex-media tycoon currently serving a prison sentence in Hong Kong under charges related to the national security law and sedition.
In a letter widely circulated among diplomats at the UN in Geneva, China’s mission called on countries to refrain from participating in the event, emphasising that Hong Kong-related issues are China’s internal affairs and should not be subject to external interference. Several diplomats, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter, confirmed receiving the letter and revealed that Chinese diplomats had been contacting countries individually to discourage attendance or support for the event.
Despite China’s efforts, at least 22 countries have co-sponsored the event, including the United States, France, and Germany, according to a document. The Chinese diplomatic mission in Geneva did not provide a comment when approached by Reuters. Meanwhile, Hong Kong authorities released a general statement condemning what they referred to as “misleading and slanderous remarks” made by organisations and media regarding the Jimmy Lai case.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the United Kingdom affirmed its commitment to raising concerns over the erosion of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong, citing the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which guarantees the region’s autonomy. Tensions between China and Britain have been escalating in recent years, with the UK releasing a report this month that criticised Hong Kong authorities for extending the application of the Beijing-imposed national security law beyond genuine national security concerns. Jimmy Lai’s trial under the new law has been postponed to 18th December and is expected to last 80 days.
As one of the 47 members of the Human Rights Council and seeking re-election next month, China has previously attempted to counter criticism of its human rights record. Last year, it requested the then-UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, not to publish a highly-anticipated report on China’s arbitrary and discriminatory detention of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, which concluded that it may constitute crimes against humanity.