Hong Kong was excluded from a major index of the world’s freest economies, underlining growing concerns over Beijing’s tightening grip on the Asian financial center after it introduced a national security law last year.
The announcement by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative U.S. think tank, came as the Territory was set to end a marathon bail hearing for 47 pro-democracy politicians in a case that critics say shows the rapid decline of civil liberties in the city.
The Heritage Foundation also removed the Chinese Special Autonomous Region of Macau, a casino center and former Portuguese colony, from the list.
The foundation has been aligned in recent years with the administration of former US President Donald Trump.
“Without a doubt Hong Kong and Macao. . . benefit from economic policies which, in many ways, offer their citizens more economic freedom than that enjoyed by the average Chinese citizen, ”said the Heritage Foundation. “But the developments of the past few years have demonstrated unequivocally that these policies are ultimately controlled from Beijing.”
Beijing imposed the National Security Law on Hong Kong last year in response to anti-government protests that engulfed the city in 2019.
The measures are part of a crackdown on the civil and political liberties guaranteed to the city for 50 years after its transfer from the United Kingdom to China in 1997. The authorities are targeting anyone considered disloyal to the Chinese government in politics, education and the media.
The Hong Kong government has long been proud of studies showing its economy to be one of the most liberal in the world, with the city billing itself as a haven for international business given its low tax rates and open port. .
Last year, the Heritage Foundation replaced Hong Kong at the top of its “Economic Freedom Index” with Singapore, knocking it from a position it had held for 25 years, but which has always included the territory in the ranking. in second place.
The case against the 47 lawmakers and pro-democracy activists has been seen as a test of whether the city’s legal system can withstand pressure from Beijing.
Authorities accused the group with subversion, alleging that they were aiming to overthrow the government by holding an unofficial primary vote to select the candidates to run for election to the city legislature. Subversion is punishable by life imprisonment under the National Security Act.
Bail hearings, chaired by a judge appointed to oversee national security matters, entered their fourth day on Thursday.
Sessions often went on late into the evening, including one that continued until 3 a.m. before the defendants were sent to court the next day. At least one defendant collapsed inside the courtroom and six others were sent to hospital for treatment.
“I don’t think our courts lately have had to deal with so many bail disputes at once,” said Simon Young, professor of law at the University of Hong Kong. “What happened is very unsatisfactory in terms of the treatment of the accused and the efficiency of the process.”
Some of the defendants faced multiple trials simultaneously and were forced to move between courtrooms.
Lawyers for the defendants said on Tuesday that their clients had not bathed for three days, forcing the judge to postpone the hearing to allow them to bathe.
Hundreds of supporters lined up every day to try and follow the proceedings in person. Many held signs and chanted banned political slogans, risking prosecution under the security law.
A 50-year-old bank executive, who stood in line on Tuesday and took time off to watch the proceedings, told the Financial Times he believed the group was being sued for no reason.
“[The prosecution] is ridiculous, ”he said. “We want to see how Hong Kong’s legal system stands up to the National Security Law.”