Freedom in the World reports assess the level of political rights and civil liberties in a given geographical area, regardless of whether they are affected by the state, nonstate actors, or foreign powers. Disputed territories are sometimes assessed separately if they meet certain criteria, including boundaries that are sufficiently stable to allow year-on-year comparisons. For more information, see the report methodology and FAQ.
The people of Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, traditionally enjoyed substantial civil liberties and the rule of law under their local constitution, the Basic Law. However, the implementation of the National Security Law (NSL) in 2020 has amounted a multifront attack on the “one country, two systems” framework. The territory’s most prominent prodemocracy figures have been arrested under its provisions, and NSL charges or the threat of charges have resulted in the closure of political parties, major independent news outlets, peaceful nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and unions. The NSL also paved the way for Beijing to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system in 2021; the new rules permit mainland authorities to vet candidates and contain other provisions that ultimately ensure Beijing near-total control over the selection of Hong Kong authorities. The first chief executive to be selected under the new rules took office in 2022.
- In April, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced her decision not to seek a second term. John Lee, who was chief secretary for administration, was the only candidate vetted to run for the post; he was selected in May and took office in July.
- Chinese president Xi Jinping visited Hong Kong in late June, marking the 25th anniversary of the territory’s handover from the United Kingdom to China and swearing John Lee into office on July 1. Hong Kong authorities prevented protests from occurring during Xi’s visit, while journalists from international news outlets and the Hong Kong–based South China Morning Post were unable to attend related events.
- In August, Justice Secretary Paul Lam ordered a nonjury trial for 47 prodemocracy advocates who had participated in an unofficial 2020 primary contest, making for the largest national security–related case in the territory to date. The trial had not begun by year’s end.
- In September, five speech therapists were found guilty of publishing children’s books that the government considered “seditious.” Prosecutors alleged that the books had encouraged opposition to the government in Beijing.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
The territory’s chief executive is selected under electoral laws approved by the National People’s Congress (NPC) of China in 2021, diminishing universal suffrage and giving mainland authorities near-total control over the selection of the chief executive. The Election Committee (EC), which was expanded under the new laws and is mostly made up of individuals backed by Beijing, selects the chief executive. Carrie Lam announced her decision not to seek a second term in that post in April 2022. Former security secretary and chief secretary for administration John Lee was the only candidate vetted to succeed her; he won 1,416 votes in the 1,500-member EC in May and took office in July.
Under the 2021 rules, Beijing can vet candidates for the Legislative Council (LegCo) and EC, who must be “patriots.” The number of EC members was also increased from 1,200 to 1,500. Of the 300 new representatives, 190 are delegates of either the NPC or the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China’s top government advisory body. The remaining 110 members represent “Hong Kong members of relevant national organizations.” The number of eligible voters who select EC members was cut from some 200,000 “functional constituency” voters—representatives of elite business and social sectors, many with close Beijing ties—to around 4,800. Most individual votes were replaced with organizational votes; unions and other groups may cast only one vote on behalf of their members.
Nearly all of the 967 EC seats contested in September 2021 were filed by candidates considered to be aligned with the Beijing-backed authorities. The remaining 533 seats were occupied by individuals nominated directly from designated organizations and by ex officio members.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
The electoral system imposed by Beijing in 2021 significantly altered the composition and power dynamic of the LegCo. The number of seats increased from 70 to 90, with 40 elected by the pro-Beijing EC, 30 by the functional constituencies, and only 20 elected directly by Hong Kong voters in five geographical constituencies. This reduced the proportion of seats open for direct election from 50 percent to 22 percent. Members serve four-year terms.
LegCo elections were originally scheduled for September 2020 but were postponed due to COVID-19. That November, the NPC Standing Committee issued a directive allowing the Hong Kong government to summarily remove—without judicial review—lawmakers whom it deemed to have engaged in behaviors that endangered national security. Carrie Lam’s government quickly ousted 4 prodemocracy LegCo members, prompting all 15 remaining prodemocracy lawmakers to resign in protest. Dozens of prodemocracy activists involved in organizing or participating in a July 2020 nonbinding opposition primary election were arrested in January 2021 under the NSL—most on charges of “subversion of state power” that can carry a life sentence.
LegCo elections eventually took place in December 2021, offering voters a pool of overwhelmingly pro-Beijing candidates who were vetted for compliance with a “patriots only” policy. With major prodemocracy candidates remaining in jail for their involvement in the 2020 primary, the pro-Beijing camp won all but one seat on a record-low turnout of 30 percent.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||0.000 4.004|
The restrictive electoral reforms implemented in 2021 offer Beijing far-reaching authority to shape electoral outcomes. The EC is empowered to vet and preapprove candidates based on national security background checks that ensure they are “patriots.” This new mechanism is more restrictive than the prescreening system for the 2016 LegCo election, in which the Electoral Affairs Commission required candidates to attest in writing their belief that Hong Kong is unquestionably a part of China. Far fewer EC and LegCo seats are directly elected by voters under the new system.
Prodemocracy candidates were absent from 2021 LegCo elections. The seven-member Candidate Eligibility Review Committee approved all but one of the 154 candidates, most of whom were part of the pro-Beijing camp. Similarly, John Lee was the only candidate to be successfully nominated and vetted by the EC for the role of chief executive in 2022.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||1.001 4.004|
The political choices of Hong Kong residents are limited by an electoral system that ensures the dominance of pro-Beijing camp by stifling prodemocracy opposition. The banning of the proindependence Hong Kong National Party in 2018 marked the first blanket prohibition of a political party since the territory’s 1997 handover from the United Kingdom to China. The government has since taken even more aggressive steps to outlaw prodemocracy political activities.
The largest pro-Beijing party is the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. The pro-Beijing Bauhinia Party caters to mainland Chinese who have relocated to Hong Kong. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is not formally registered in Hong Kong but exercises enormous influence.
Since 2021, leading prodemocracy figures have been effectively removed from the political arena under provisions of Beijing’s “patriots only” electoral makeover or via the NSL. Civic Passion, a localist party critical of Beijing, disbanded that year after its chairman was ejected from the LegCo; he had failed to clear the EC’s vetting for patriotism. In December 2022, the chairman of the prodemocracy Civic Party said it would dissolve after no party member made a nomination to join its executive committee.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||0.000 4.004|
Prodemocracy legislators, who have historically enjoyed substantial minority representation alongside their pro-Beijing counterparts, are absent from the LegCo today.
The subjective nature of the NPC’s standards for oath taking, the expansive criminalization of speech and political activity under the NSL, and the chief executive’s discretionary authority to remove proindependence LegCo members under the NPC’s 2020 directive all invite arbitrary enforcement and pose serious obstacles for the opposition in future elections. The opposition has been battered by arrests and detentions since the 2020 imposition of the NSL.
The 2021 electoral reforms closed remaining avenues for the opposition to win political representation by reducing the number of elected seats, increasing the proportion of appointed seats, and implementing a vetting process to ensure that only “patriotic” candidates who accept Beijing’s rules for Hong Kong can contest elections. Pro-Beijing candidates effectively swept that year’s LegCo elections, leaving the body with no prodemocracy bloc.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||1.001 4.004|
The unelected CCP leadership in Beijing exerts a powerful influence on politics in Hong Kong through a variety of channels, including the NPC’s ability to issue interpretations of the Basic Law, the co-optation of Hong Kong business leaders through their mainland assets and membership in the NPC or CPPCC, and lobbying or harassment of election committee members and other political figures to ensure favorable electoral outcomes. The NSL, imposed without consultation by the central government, gives Beijing vastly expanded powers in Hong Kong, in part by establishing a centrally controlled security apparatus in the territory and by allowing defendants in some NSL cases to be transferred to the mainland for prosecution and punishment.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
While there are no formal restrictions preventing women or members of ethnic minority groups from voting or running for office, their participation is limited in practice. Of the 21 official members of the Executive Council, a body that advises the chief executive, only 5 are women, and female legislators only occupy 16 of the LegCo’s 90 seats. There is no ethnic minority representation in either branch of government.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||0.000 4.004|
Directly elected officials have little ability to set and implement government policies under Hong Kong’s political system, and unelected mainland authorities are highly influential. The Basic Law restricts the LegCo’s lawmaking powers, prohibiting legislators from introducing bills that would affect Hong Kong’s public spending, governmental operations, or political structure.
Under the current electoral system, a vetting process ensures that only “patriotic” candidates who accept Beijing’s rules for Hong Kong may run in elections. Prodemocracy candidates have been barred from running for office, jailed, or forced into exile, and there was no genuine competition in the 2021 polls. The current LegCo offers no meaningful checks on executive authority and instead functions as a rubber-stamp institution. The 2022 chief-executive selection process was also uncompetitive, with Beijing effectively ensuring John Lee’s appointment.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||3.003 4.004|
Hong Kong is regarded as having generally low corruption rates, and some high-ranking officials have been successfully prosecuted for graft-related offenses in the past. However, residents perceive the government to be lagging in the fight against corruption.
An increasing source of concern has been the apparently politicized application of anti–money laundering and anticorruption laws against organizations connected with the 2019 protest movement, like the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund and Spark Alliance. Prodemocracy activists and protesters continued to face money-laundering and fraud charges in 2022. In September, internet radio host Edmund Wan, who raised funds for protesters fleeing for Taiwan, pled guilty to money-laundering charges and for violating the territory’s colonial-era sedition law.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
Hong Kong has no freedom of information law, nor does it have any specific legislation relating to the management of government records and archives. An administrative Code of Access to Information is intended to ensure open access to government records but includes broad exemptions.
While there are public consultations on issues ranging from transit fares to the chief executive’s annual policy address, the range of consultation is narrow in practice. Public deliberation is not repressed but nevertheless infrequent and controlled by ruling elites. The government is highly insulated from civil society actors, especially those that are critical of Hong Kong and mainland authorities. The territory’s government does not consult with them when formulating policy.
Consultations between Hong Kong officials and Beijing, represented by a Liaison Office in the territory, are largely opaque. There is no transparency regarding central government processes that directly affect Hong Kong. The NSL was drafted in secret and announced without public consultation, taking effect almost immediately after the text was first published.
|Are there free and independent media?||1.001 4.004|
The Basic Law has historically acted as a bulwark for press freedom, and the mainland’s internet censorship regime does not yet apply in Hong Kong. Residents have long had access to a variety of print, broadcast, and digital news sources. However, following several years of sustained political and economic pressure on independent media by the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, press freedom has deteriorated over the 2020s to date.
Prodemocracy media owner Jimmy Lai was arrested on suspicion of “colluding with foreign forces” in 2020, while police raided the offices of his Apple Daily newspaper in 2020 and 2021. Apple Daily and sister publication Next Magazine both closed in 2021, while the Lai-founded publisher Next Digital effectively shut down that September. Lai received a prison term in 2021 for protest activity, received another sentence over fraud allegations in December 2022, and still faces charges under the territory’s sedition law as well as an NSL trial.
More independent outlets closed in 2022. In January, Citizen News closed, with its leaders citing safety concerns for staff and the worsening media environment. In June, the FactWire investigative outlet closed.
Radio Television Hong Kong, the territory’s public broadcaster, had a reputation for independence before the government effectively took control of its output in 2021. In October 2022, Eddie Cheung, a government official with no previous media experience, became its director of broadcasting. In November, Cheung vowed to “collaborate seamlessly” with police and other arms of the local government.
Journalists from international news organizations and from the South China Morning Post were unable to attend Chinese president Xi’s speech or other events during his June–July 2022 visit to Hong Kong.
In September 2022, a court sentenced five speech therapists to 19 months in prison for publishing children’s books that the government labeled as “seditious.” Government prosecutors alleged that the books had encouraged opposition to the government in Beijing.
Other constraints include an antidoxing law which gives authorities broad license to arrest anyone who published personal information recklessly or with the intent of causing harm. Under legislation passed that same year, films can be retroactively banned on national security grounds. Hong Kong does not currently have a “fake news” law, though the Path to Democracy party called for one in September 2022.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||3.003 4.004|
Religious freedom is generally respected in Hong Kong. Adherents of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is persecuted in mainland China, are free to practice in public. However, they have faced counterdemonstrations and harassment by members of the Hong Kong Youth Care Association, which has ties to the CCP.
Religious figures and groups that support the government’s opponents have been targeted by the authorities and pro-China actors. Christian groups that supported 2019 protesters or human rights in China disbanded in 2021. In early 2022, articles published in Ta Kung Pao, a newspaper directly owned by the Chinese state, accused Catholic cardinal Joseph Zen and other figures of supporting the prodemocracy movement and disrupting the territory’s stability. In May, the territory’s national security police arrested Zen for his involvement with the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, though he has not yet received NSL-related charges. In November, Zen and five others who were involved in the fund were convicted for failing to register it and received fines.
Some churches self-censor and eschew pastors and sermons with political views.
Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 due to evidence that the broader crackdown on dissent has prompted some churches to self-censor sermons and other religious activities.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||1.001 4.004|
University professors were historically able to write and lecture freely, and political debate on campuses was lively. However, a crackdown on free speech on campus, academic freedom, and student activity persisted throughout 2022.
The NSL has been used aggressively to suppress discussions of Hong Kong independence and the 2019 protest movement at all levels of education. Several prodemocracy scholars have been fired by Hong Kong universities since 2020. In 2021, the Education Bureau instructed public universities to bring curriculums in line with the NSL and “prevent and suppress” on-campus acts that could violate its provisions. University students are reportedly less willing to discuss politically sensitive matters, while academics increasingly self-censor for fear of violating the NSL. Some academics have elected to leave Hong Kong.
The Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po newspapers, both of which are owned by the Chinese state, have published articles attacking academics in recent years.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||2.002 4.004|
Hong Kong has a tradition of free personal expression and private discussion, but local and mainland security agencies have been suspected of monitoring the communications of prodemocracy activists for some years. These agencies are now mandated to do so under the NSL, which permits warrantless surveillance and wiretapping. The law also allowed mainland authorities to establish security agencies in the territory under their own jurisdiction, and people charged with NSL offenses can be detained and tried in the mainland. The NSL’s enactment has prompted many social media users to self-censor, shutter their accounts, or delete existing content that could run afoul of the law.
In September 2022, Hong Kong police arrested a man under a colonial-era sedition law after he allegedly performed “Glory to Hong Kong,” a protest anthem, when attending a tribute to the late Elizabeth II. The man was later bailed.
The use of video-recording to identify protest participants, a tactic used in China to intimidate protesters and activists, has also been observed in Hong Kong.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||1.001 4.004|
The Basic Law guarantees freedom of assembly, but the Public Order Ordinance requires organizers to give police seven days’ notice before protests and to obtain official assent.
The government has repeatedly used the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to ban public assemblies, including the annual June 4 vigil to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, which in 2022 was banned for the third year in a row; authorities closed much of Victoria Park, patrolled nearby streets, and ultimately arrested six individuals. In January 2022, Chow Hang-tung, former vice chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (HKASPDMC), received a prison term for inciting an “unauthorized assembly” after she encouraged others to individually commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre via social media messages in 2021. While that conviction was overturned in December 2022, Chow remained in custody on two NSL-related charges.
The territory’s national security police targeted the prodemocracy League of Social Democrats (LSD) ahead of Chinese president Xi’s June–July 2022 visit to Hong Kong to prevent protest plans from moving forward. Avery Ng, the LSD’s former chairman, reported he was under house arrest in late June. In September, the LSD was warned to not organize on the “sensitive date” of October 1, when the mainland celebrates National Day.
In March 2022, Hong Kong police fined three people attending a pro-Ukraine demonstration for violating COVID-19 restrictions. Pro-Ukraine demonstrations were also held earlier that month but were socially distanced.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||1.001 4.004|
Historically, Hong Kong hosted a vibrant NGO sector, including a number of groups focusing on human rights in mainland China. However, the introduction of the NSL dramatically changed the environment for civil society; in a June 2022 article, the Hong Kong Free Press news outlet reported that 58 organizations, including local press outlets, prodemocracy groups, and unions, have disbanded since 2021.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||1.001 4.004|
Trade unions are independent, but collective-bargaining rights are not recognized, and protections against antiunion discrimination are weak.
Some trade unions took an active role in the 2019 protest movement and unsuccessfully attempted to organize a referendum on a potential general strike in 2020, but they drew warnings from government ministers for their efforts. Many unions have since dissolved, having faced growing pressure from government officials and state media and fearing for members’ personal safety. The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions dissolved in late 2021, as did the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||2.002 4.004|
The Hong Kong judiciary, which is historically independent, has been undermined by the NSL, which allows the government to select judges for NSL trials.
The NPC has historically reserved the right to make final interpretations of the Basic Law, limiting the independence of the Court of Final Appeal. Such interventions were rare prior to the NPC’s 2016 interpretation regarding oaths of office, which was issued without a request from the Hong Kong government.
Furthermore, the NSL was imposed on Hong Kong through a Basic Law provision that allows the NPC to list national laws that must be applied locally, bypassing both the LegCo and Hong Kong’s courts. Under the NSL, the chief executive is empowered to designate a pool of judges to try NSL cases. They are selected for a one-year term but can face removal should they make statements that “endanger national security.” The chief executive’s office refused to make the criteria for selection and the judge list public, raising serious concerns about judicial independence.
In March 2022, two senior British judges resigned from the Court of Final Appeal, citing the effects of the NSL. Then UK foreign secretary Liz Truss supported their decision to resign, saying it was “no longer tenable” for British judges to sit in the Hong Kong court in a statement.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||2.002 4.004|
The courts typically upheld due process rights and adjudicated civil and criminal matters fairly and efficiently in the past. Following the thousands of arrests made during the protests that began in 2019, courts came under pressure to process cases faster, and pro-Beijing politicians and media called on them to side with the prosecution and issue heavier sentences.
Under the NSL, individuals charged with national security offenses are tried by judges selected by the chief executive, and the central government wields influence over the appointment of prosecutors. In cases involving offenses against public order or state secrets, the trials may be closed to the public. The central government’s Office for Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong can assert jurisdiction over some cases and have them tried on the mainland. There is a much higher threshold for bail for NSL cases than others. The NSL also gave police powerful new legal tools including enhanced investigatory power to search premises and electronic devices, freeze or confiscate assets, and demand people and groups provide information.
In August 2022, Justice Secretary Paul Lam ordered a nonjury trial for 47 prodemocracy advocates who participated in the unofficial 2020 primary, making for the largest national security–related case in Hong Kong to date and only the second of its kind to be conducted without a jury. The trial was not yet underway by year’s end.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
Police are forbidden by law from employing torture, disappearance, or other forms of abuse. However, the 2019 protest movement featured frequent episodes of police violence, which have generally gone unaddressed. There were also credible allegations of arbitrary detention and even torture of protesters in 2019. The protest movement also brought about a more general climate of unrest, due to both clashes that accompanied demonstrations and violent attacks committed by nonstate actors against protesters, activists, and bystanders at protest locations. Cases of arbitrary detention have reportedly decreased since, though the US State Department warned travelers that they still risk “wrongful detention” in Hong Kong in a July 2022 advisory.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
Hong Kong has four antidiscrimination ordinances concerning sex, disability, family status, and race. Citizens are generally treated equally under the law, though people of South Asian origin or descent face language barriers and de facto discrimination in education and employment. According to a survey released in September 2022 by researchers at Lingnan University and the Hong Kong Diocesan Pastoral Centre for Workers–Kowloon, foreign delivery workers face racial discrimination. Women are also subject to some employment discrimination in practice.
Antidiscrimination laws do not specifically protect LGBT+ people. In recent years, the Equal Opportunities Commission has unsuccessfully called on the Hong Kong government to enact antidiscrimination legislation to change this.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
Hong Kong residents generally enjoy freedom of movement, though authorities periodically deny entry to visiting political activists and Falun Gong practitioners, raising suspicions of Beijing-imposed restrictions. Some Hong Kong activists and politicians have also faced difficulty traveling to the mainland.
Hong Kong police have reportedly compiled a watchlist of people to arrest under the NSL should they attempt to leave via border checkpoints or the airport. In May 2022, Hui Po-keung, an academic and a former trustee of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, was arrested at the airport for “collusion with foreign forces” when he attempted to travel to Europe. In November, the fund’s secretary, Sze Ching-wee, was held by national security police at the airport for the same alleged offense.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||3.003 4.004|
While property rights are largely respected, collusion among powerful business entities with political connections is perceived as an impediment to fair competition.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||4.004 4.004|
Hong Kong residents are legally protected from rape and domestic abuse, and police generally respond appropriately to reports of such crimes. However, domestic and sexual violence have reportedly occurred more often during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Men and women enjoy equal rights in personal status matters such as marriage and divorce. While same-sex couples enjoy equal inheritance rights, there is no legal recognition of same-sex marriage or civil union in Hong Kong. A constitutional challenge to restrictions on same-sex marriage was rejected by a court in 2019. In August 2022, an appellate court upheld a 2020 decision denying recognition of same-sex marriages conducted overseas.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
While most Hong Kong residents enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation, certain marginalized groups face substantial risks of exploitation and abuse. For instance, foreign household workers remain vulnerable to a wide range of exploitative practices. Since they may face deportation if dismissed, many are reluctant to bring complaints against employers. The results of a 2022 survey of delivery workers suggests many are not aware of their rights as contractors.
Hong Kong is a significant site for human trafficking but lacks comprehensive antitrafficking legislation.
On Hong Kong
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Global Freedom Score42 100 partly free