2015 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - China (Hong Kong)
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||13 April 2016|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, 2015 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - China (Hong Kong), 13 April 2016, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/57161288e.html [accessed 20 February 2018]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Hong Kong is a special administrative region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China (PRC). The 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong and the SAR's charter, the Basic Law of the SAR (also known as the Basic Law), specify that the SAR will enjoy a high degree of autonomy under the "one country, two systems" framework except in matters of defense and foreign affairs. In 2012 a Chief Executive Election Committee composed of 1,193 members selected C.Y. Leung as the SAR's third chief executive (CE). The Legislative Council (LegCo), consisting of a combination of 40 seats directly elected by voters and 30 seats selected by limited franchise functional constituencies that generally supported the government in Beijing, was elected in September 2012. In November voters directly elected all 431 district councilors who advise the Hong Kong government on how policies and operations impact their constituents but do not have any lawmaking power themselves. This marked the first time since 1997 that the CE's office did not appoint any councilors to serve in their respective districts. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Following 79 days of prodemocracy protests that ended in December 2014, which at their peak drew more than 100,000 residents onto the streets, the Hong Kong government put forward a reform package for implementing universal suffrage in the election of the chief executive in 2017. Conforming to narrow restrictions dictated by the National People's Congress in August 2014, the reform package had stipulated that only two or three candidates could stand for general election by universal suffrage and only after they had secured the support of more than half of the members of a generally pro-Beijing nominating committee. Critics maintained these reforms would have introduced overly narrow restrictions on who could stand for general election, and on June 18, the Legislative Council rejected the package.
The most important human rights problems reported were the limited ability of citizens to participate in and change their government through free and fair elections, limitations on freedom of the press and expression, including new concerns about academic freedom, apparent extrajudicial disappearances of five publishers of books critical of the Communist Party leadership, and incidents of violence against the media.
Other human rights problems included denial of visas for political reasons, arbitrary arrest or detention, other aggressive police tactics hampering the freedom of assembly, trafficking in persons, and societal prejudice against certain ethnic minorities.
The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
Five men working in Hong Kong's publishing industry disappeared between October and December from Thailand, Hong Kong, and mainland China. In addition to being Hong Kong residents, one of the men was a Swedish national and another a British national. Media coverage of these cases noted the men worked for Mighty Current, a publishing house, and its affiliated Causeway Bay Bookstore, which were known for selling books critical of the Chinese Communist Party and its leaders. Credible reports gave rise to widespread suspicions that PRC security officials were involved in their disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Basic Law prohibits torture and other forms of abuse. There were no reports of security forces engaging in torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; however, there were some reports of the use of excessive force by police officers. In the first half of the year, the police force's Complaints against Police Office reported 913 allegations of excessive use of force by police. According to police force statistics, four allegations were substantiated as reported, one was substantiated other than as reported, 10 were unsubstantiated, two were adjudicated as false, eight did not involve fault, 126 were not pursuable, 229 were withdrawn, and 31 were informally resolved. As of June there were 502 allegations pending investigation and endorsement by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC). There were 31 allegations of assault by police officers on persons not in custody, of which three were not pursuable, and two were withdrawn. As of June there were 26 allegations pending investigation and endorsement by the IPCC. There were also 119 allegations of assault by police officers against persons in custody in the first half of the year. Of those, 11 were not pursuable, 26 were withdrawn as of June, and 82 allegations were pending investigation and endorsement by the IPCC. There were no reports of death in custody due to excessive police force.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards, and the Correctional Services Department (CSD) permitted visits by independent human rights observers, the media, and religious groups.
The government does not have separate detention facilities for migrants or asylum seekers.
Physical Conditions: During the year the CSD reported it managed 24 penal institutions (comprising minimum-, medium-, and maximum-security prisons; a psychiatric center; and training, detention, rehabilitation, and drug addiction treatment centers).
The CSD acknowledged overcrowding was a problem in certain types of penal institutions, such as remand (pretrial detention) facilities and maximum-security institutions. The CSD adopted a strategy of renovating existing institutions to increase space and modernize facilities.
In the first half of the year, there were four reports of deaths of prisoners in CSD custody. The Coroner's Court, aided by a jury, conducted death inquests. Inquest results had not been reported by year's end.
Administration: Judicial authorities investigated credible allegations of problematic conditions and documented the results in a publicly accessible manner. The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions, and there was an external Office of the Ombudsman.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted human rights groups to conduct prison visits; however, as of September the CSD had not received any requests for such visits. The CSD reported that from January to June, seven media outlets had visited the SAR's prisons. Justices of the peace may make suggestions and comments on matters such as the physical environment of facilities, overcrowding, staff improvement, training and recreational programs and activities, and other matters affecting the welfare of inmates. In the first six months of the year, justices of the peace made 216 unannounced visits to penal institutions.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, but some instances of arbitrary arrest and detention occurred during the year.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The Hong Kong Police Force maintains internal security and reports to the Security Bureau. The People's Liberation Army is responsible for external security. The Immigration Department controls the entry of persons into and out of the SAR as well as the documentation of local residents. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police force, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The reported involvement of mainland security forces in the disappearances of five Hong Kong book publishers, however, raised concerns about the activities of mainland security forces in Hong Kong.
According to international and local media reports in late 2014, the mainland PRC's Ministry of State Security deployed operatives in Hong Kong to surveil critics of the central government's policies. Their targets reportedly included key figures in the prodemocracy movement, political activists, lawyers, academics, businesspersons, and religious leaders. The ministry reportedly recruited former Hong Kong police officers with surveillance training and pro-Beijing sympathies to assist mainland agents with political surveillance operations inside Hong Kong. In one reported case, police arrested men alleged to have been part of a ministry surveillance team that was following a prodemocracy legislator but released them shortly thereafter.
There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.
Human rights activists and some legislators expressed concern that the CE appointed all IPCC members and that the IPCC's lack of power to conduct independent investigations limited its oversight capacity. The IPCC cannot compel officers to participate in its investigations, and the media reported cases of police officers declining to fully cooperate.
In July the National People's Congress passed a national security law containing a provision obligating Hong Kong residents to "safeguard national sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity." The law does not offer specifics on how residents should fulfill this obligation nor a mechanism to enforce the provision, and CE Leung stated publicly in July that the law does not apply to Hong Kong. Leung further commented that, while Hong Kong had a responsibility to protect China's national security, this obligation should be fulfilled by passing local legislation in accordance with Article 23 of the Basic Law. In July Leung said that the government had no current plans to enact Article 23 legislation.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Suspects generally were apprehended openly with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official. They must be charged within 48 hours or released, and the government respected this right. Interviews of suspects are required to be videotaped. The law provides accused persons with the right to a prompt judicial determination, and authorities respected this right effectively.
Detainees were generally informed promptly of charges against them. There was a functioning bail system, and authorities allowed detainees ready access to a lawyer of their choice as well as to family members. Suspects were not detained incommunicado or held under house arrest.
Arbitrary Arrest: Prodemocracy activists and participants in the fall 2014 prodemocracy protests claimed they were subject to incidents of politically motivated arbitrary arrest. The Department of Justice maintained political considerations did not factor into its decision to charge several activists with crimes related to the 2014 protests. The Secretary for Justice publicly attributed the delay to the need to investigate and make decisions on each individual case, the high number of suspected offenses during the Occupy protests, and the need for legal advice from UK-based lawyers on whether or not to prosecute. The magistrate at a September 2 pretrial hearing for several activists charged in connection with alleged actions at the start of the protests questioned why it took the government nearly a year to bring the charges if the cases were "straightforward" as prosecutors claimed.
In August authorities charged several prominent student prodemocracy activists, including Joshua Wong, the convener of the prodemocracy student activist group Scholarism; Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) secretary-general Nathan Law; and HKFS former secretary-general Alex Chow, with unlawful assembly, obstructing police, and other crimes related to both the fall 2014 Occupy protests and the earlier release of the State Council's White Paper on Hong Kong in June 2014. The students pled not guilty in September, and the court scheduled the trial for February 2016.
Many experts assessed the police use of force during the protests in the fall of 2014 as generally professional and appropriate. Some prodemocracy activists, nongovernmental organization (NGO) observers, and journalists expressed concerns about certain police actions. Video footage showed plainclothes police officers abusing Ken Tsang, a prodemocracy activist, in October 2014. Tsang's lawyer stated that police officers handcuffed Tsang before beating him. The police force suspended the seven officers and arrested them in November 2014, following an investigation. In July a court granted Tsang's request for judicial review of the police's refusal to name the seven officers alleged to have assaulted him; police subsequently released the names of all seven officers. In October prosecutors charged the seven officers with the crime of "wounding or striking with intent to do grievous bodily harm," which carries a maximum possible punishment of life imprisonment. Prosecutors separately charged Tsang with assaulting and obstructing police officers, which carries a maximum possible sentence of two years' imprisonment. In November and December the District and Eastern Magistrate and courts, respectively, heard pretrial testimony in the case. The court was slated to reconvene to finish pretrial hearings in January 2016, and the trial of the police officers was scheduled for April 2016.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the SAR government generally respected judicial independence. The judiciary provided citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process.
The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Trials were by jury except at the magistrate and district court level. An attorney is provided at the public's expense if defendants cannot afford counsel. Defendants had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and the right to a public trial without undue delay, and defendants could confront and question witnesses testifying against them and present witnesses to testify on their behalf. Defendants and their attorneys had access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases. Defendants have the right of appeal and the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt.
Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence except in official corruption cases. Under the law a current or former government official who maintained a standard of living above that commensurate with his or her official income, or who controls monies or property disproportionate to his official income, is guilty of an offense unless he can satisfactorily explain the discrepancy. The courts upheld this ordinance. The government conducted court proceedings in either Chinese or English, the SAR's two official languages.
Hong Kong's unique, common law judicial system operates within the PRC; the SAR's courts are charged with interpreting those provisions of the Basic Law that address matters within the limits of the SAR's autonomy. The courts also interpret provisions of the Basic Law that touch on central government responsibilities or on the relationship between the central authorities and the SAR. Before making final judgments on these matters, which are not subject to appeal, the courts must seek an interpretation of the relevant provisions from the Standing Committee of the PRC's National People's Congress (NPCSC). The Basic Law requires that courts follow the NPCSC's interpretations where cases intersect with central government jurisdiction, although judgments previously rendered are not affected. As the final interpreter of the Basic Law, the NPCSC also has the power to initiate interpretations of the Basic Law.
The NPCSC's Committee for the Basic Law, composed of six mainland and six Hong Kong members, interprets the Basic Law. The CE, the LegCo president, and the chief justice nominate the Hong Kong members. Human rights and lawyers' organizations expressed concern that this process, which can supersede the Court of Final Appeal's power of final adjudication, could potentially be used to limit the independence of the judiciary or degrade the courts' authority.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters and access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or the cessation of, human rights violations. The SAR's courts continued to exercise a high degree of autonomy under the Basic Law. Activists and other observers, however, continued to express concerns that the SAR government and central government may seek to erode the judiciary's independence, particularly following the issuance of the 2014 PRC White Paper that described judges as "administrators" who must be "patriotic" toward China.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.
The law provides that no personal data may be used for a purpose other than that stated at the time of its collection without the data subject's consent. Specific exemptions allow SAR authorities to transfer personal data to permit prevention, detection, or prosecution of a crime when certain conditions are met. Data, including digital communications intended to remain private, may be transferred to a body outside the SAR for purposes of safeguarding the security, defense, or international relations of the SAR, or for the prevention, detection, or prosecution of a crime, provided conditions set out in the ordinance are met. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data worked to prevent the misuse, disclosure, or matching of personal data without the consent of the subject individual or the commissioner.
The use of covert surveillance and the interception of telecommunications and digital and postal communications may be granted only to prevent or detect "serious crime" or to protect "public security." The law establishes a two-tiered system for granting approval for surveillance activities, under which surveillance of a more intrusive nature requires the approval of a judge, while surveillance of a less intrusive nature requires the approval of a senior law enforcement official. Applications to intercept telecommunications must involve crimes with a penalty of at least seven years' imprisonment, while applications for covert surveillance must involve crimes with a penalty of at least three years' imprisonment or a fine of at least one million Hong Kong dollars (HK$) ($128,700).
In August outgoing privacy commissioner Allan Chiang emphasized in his farewell blog the important link between privacy protection and freedom of expression. He cited an instance in which local students had expressed positive views on progovernment political reform during an interview conducted by a pro-Beijing organization for selection of students to join an overseas study tour. They were harassed online after the organization uploaded the interviews to YouTube without their consent.
In September the government reported a telecommunications service provider was convicted of failure to comply with a customer's request for cessation of the use of his personal data in direct marketing activities. The provider was fined. This was the first conviction under the new direct marketing regulatory regime, which took effect in 2013 under the Personal Data Privacy Amendment Ordinance. Additionally, from January through August, the government reported the privacy commissioner had completed action on 1,177 cases, identifying violations in eight cases. Five cases remained pending in the courts at year's end.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, an unfettered internet, and a generally supportive government combined to promote freedom of speech and of the press. During the year, however, media groups lodged more complaints than in the past about what they viewed as increasing challenges in this area.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: There were no legal restrictions or restrictions imposed by other actors on the ability of individuals to criticize the government publicly or privately or to discuss matters of general public interest without reprisal. Many in the media and civil society organizations, however, alleged the central government exerted indirect pressure on media organizations to mute criticism of its policy priorities in the SAR.
Press and Media Freedoms: In March the Hong Kong Journalists Association said press freedom had deteriorated further from the previous year, which it had already described as "the darkest for press freedom" in several decades. Its Press Freedom Index declined to 48.4 for the general public, reflecting a year-on-year decline of 0.6 percent, and to 38.9 for journalists, representing a year-on-year decline of 3.1 percent. The association attributed the worsening trend to more frequent physical and verbal attacks on journalists during the Occupy protests and an increase in self-censorship. It also criticized the government for decreased transparency and what it characterized as increasingly selective disclosures of information to the media. The association's vice chair called for the introduction of a "freedom of information act" as soon as possible.
Violence and Harassment: A number of violent attacks on media-related personalities took place during the year. Courts levied punishments on persons who had committed violent crimes against journalists in prior years.
In January assailants threw a firebomb at the home of prodemocracy activist and Next Media founder Jimmy Lai. Attackers also set fire to the entrance of the media company's building in the New Territories. Police announced they were searching for four suspects in connection with the two attacks but had made no arrests as of December.
Local and international media reported police arrested seven Hong Kong residents for participating in the February 2014 knife attack of former Ming Pao newspaper chief editor Kevin Lau–a journalist known for his tough investigative reporting on Mainland China. Lau suffered wounds to his back and legs. In addition, in March police in Guangzhou arrested two men in connection with the attack; the two subsequently returned to Hong Kong to stand trial. In August a High Court jury convicted them of causing grievous bodily harm to Lau with intent; Justice Esther Toh Lye-ping subsequently sentenced each to 19 years in prison.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Reports of media self-censorship continued during the year. Most media outlets were owned by businesses with interests on the mainland, which led to claims that they were vulnerable to self-censorship, with editors deferring to the perceived concerns of publishers regarding their business interests. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than half of Hong Kong's media owners held official roles in the PRC political system, either as delegates to the NPC or to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
In December mainland e-business platform Alibaba announced that it had purchased a controlling interest in the South China Morning Post, long considered the flagship English-language newspaper. In announcing the deal, Alibaba's executive vice chairman in Hong Kong said the company would uphold the Post's independence but also suggested mainstream western media "may not agree with the system of governance in China, and that taints their view of coverage." Some reacted with concern to the newspaper's purchase by a mainland-dependent business with a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) committee embedded in its management, fearing the space for independent voices in Hong Kong media would continue to shrink.
Many mainland companies and those with significant business dealings on the mainland reportedly boycotted advertising in the Next Media Group publications and the newspaper AM730. Both media organizations were critical of the central government and the SAR government.
Libel/Slander Laws: There were no reports the government or individual public figures used laws against libel or slander to restrict public discussion.
National Security: There were no reports of restrictive media distribution to protect national security.
There were no government restrictions on access to the internet, although prodemocracy activists and protesters claimed central government authorities closely monitored their e-mails and internet use. The internet was widely available and used extensively.
There were reports of politically motivated cyberattacks against private persons and organizations.
Prodemocracy activists, legislators, lawyers, religious leaders, and other figures in the SAR suspected PRC security agencies may be monitoring their electronic communications. A private cybersecurity company reportedly documented at least one spy ring with ties to the PRC central government that had infiltrated the computer networks of democracy protesters and the prodemocracy Civic Party in Hong Kong.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were some restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. Some scholars suggested Hong Kong-based academics practiced self-censorship in their China-related work to preserve good relations and research and lecturing opportunities in the mainland.
On September 29, the University of Hong Kong's (HKU) Council voted by 12 to 8 to reject the appointment of former law school dean Johannes Chan as HKU's pro-vice-chancellor. Chan served as dean of HKU's law school for 12 years before stepping down in 2014; he was regarded as an advocate for prodemocracy and human rights causes. While a HKU search committee recommended Chan for the post in 2014, the HKU Council delayed a vote on his nomination following the protests in the fall of 2014 and a series of articles criticizing Chan in progovernment media. HKU's Council voted to delay a decision on Chan's appointment in June, and again in August, before finally voting to reject his appointment in September. This was the first time the HKU Council had voted to reject a candidate recommended by the university's search committee. Many Hong Kong residents, including prodemocracy activists, academics, students, and HKU alumni, expressed concern that HKU's Council had bowed to pressure from the Chief Executive's Office and the central government, and they believed the decision reflected an erosion of the longstanding tradition of academic freedom.
Hong Kong-based international NGOs voiced concern about pro-Beijing media outlets' sustained criticism of their activities, which the newspapers characterized as interference by foreign forces. NGO staff members reported that these efforts to discredit their work in the SAR made it difficult for the groups to continue their existing partnerships with academic institutions and their public outreach. The NGOs also said these media campaigns hindered their work to promote and protect human rights, improve access to information and civic participation in governance, emphasize the importance of academic freedom, and support the independence of the SAR's institutions.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
The law provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The police routinely issued the required "letter of no objection" for public meetings and demonstrations–including those critical of the SAR and central governments–and the overwhelming majority of protests occurred without serious incident. The police issued 438 letters of no objection in the first half of the year, and government statistics indicated that on average seven to eight "public events" occurred every day. Local NGO Civil Human Rights Front reported that police had increased restrictions on protesters' activities by increasing their use of appendices to stipulate the conditions under which the no-objection letters are issued, compared with prior years. Activists and pandemocratic legislators also expressed concern that the government took a more restrictive view of protests that occurred at the Central Government Liaison Office.
On June 4, tens of thousands of persons peacefully gathered without incident in Victoria Park to commemorate the 26th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The government issued a permit to the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China to hold the annual vigil, which–in addition to a small annual event in Macau–was reportedly the only sanctioned event in China to commemorate the Tiananmen Square anniversary.
According to organizers, 48,000 persons participated in an annual July 1 prodemocracy demonstration held on the anniversary of the 1997 transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong to the PRC. Police estimated 19,000 protesters attended. Participants called for CE Leung to resign, a relaunch of the five-step electoral reform process, abolition of LegCo's Functional Constituencies (FCs), and democratic amendments to the Basic Law. Police deployed thousands of officers but did not interfere with the legally permitted rally.
Government statistics indicated police arrested 125 persons in connection with public order events in the first half of the year.
Freedom of Association
The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected it.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State's Report on International Religious Freedom.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, with some prominent exceptions.
Under the "one country, two systems" framework, the SAR continued to administer its own immigration and entry policies and make determinations regarding claims under the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) independently. There were 10,068 nonrefoulement claims, including those based on claims under the CAT, pending Immigration Department processing as of July 31. Of the 2,237 nonrefoulement claims the government processed from March 2014 to June 2015, it determined 12 were substantiated. Applicants and activists continued to complain about the slow processing of claims and limited government subsidies available to applicants.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
There continued to be claims that the Immigration Department refused entry to persons traveling to the SAR for political reasons that did not appear to contravene the law. The Immigration Department, as a matter of policy, declined to comment on individual cases. Activists, some legislators, and other observers contended that the refusals, usually of persons holding views critical of the central government, were made at the behest of PRC authorities. The Security Bureau maintained that the Immigration Department exchanged information with other immigration authorities, including on the mainland, but made its decisions independently.
Foreign Travel: Most residents easily obtained travel documents from the SAR government; however, PRC authorities did not permit some human rights activists, student protesters, and prodemocracy legislators to visit mainland China. Some of the students who participated in the protest movement in the fall of 2014 alleged the PRC surveilled the protests and blacklisted them.
Emigration and Repatriation: Government policy was to repatriate undocumented migrants who arrived from mainland China, and authorities did not consider them for refugee status. As of July the authorities had returned 1,975 immigration offenders and illegal immigrants to the mainland.
The government did not recognize the Taiwan passport as valid for visa endorsement purposes, although convenient mechanisms existed for Taiwan passport holders to visit. Beginning in 2013, Taiwan visitors were able to register online and stay for one month if they held a mainland travel permit.
Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The SAR has a policy of not granting asylum or refugee status and has no temporary protection policy. The government's practice was to refer refugee and asylum claimants to a lawyer or to UNHCR.
Refoulement: In March the government introduced a Unified Screening Mechanism after a 2013 Court of Final Appeal ruling ordered it to identify refugees in accordance with the UNHCR office in Hong Kong. The screening system consolidated the processing of claims based on risk of return to persecution, torture, or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Claimants continued to receive publicly funded legal assistance.
Employment: The government defines CAT claimants and asylum seekers as illegal immigrants or "overstayers" in the SAR, and as such they have no legal right to work in the city while claims are under review. Those granted either refugee status by UNHCR or relief from removal under the CAT were permitted to work only with approval from the director of immigration. They were also ineligible for training by either the Employees Retraining Board or the Vocational Training Council.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The Basic Law limits the ability of residents to change their government through free and fair elections. Article 45 of the Basic Law establishes as the "ultimate aim" direct election of the chief executive through "universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures." Since 2007 the people of Hong Kong, the SAR government, and the PRC central government have vigorously debated the nature, scope, and pace of democratic and electoral reforms.
Voters directly elect 40 of LegCo's 70 seats. Thirty-five seats are designated as "geographic constituencies" (GCs) and 35 as "functional constituencies" (FCs). All 35 GCs are directly elected, while only five of the FCs are directly elected. The remaining 30 FC seats are selected by a subset of voters from FCs representing key economic and social sectors. Under this structure a limited number of individuals and institutions were able to control multiple votes for LegCo members. In 2012, the constituencies that elected these 30 FC LegCo seats consisted of 238,022 individual and institutional voters, according to local media and the SAR's voter registration statistics. Beginning in 2012, voters could also elect five newly created FC seats in the district council sector, known as "super seats." While technically FC seats, these five LegCo members were directly elected by the approximately five million voters who were not otherwise represented in another FC and therefore represented larger constituencies than any other seats in LegCo. The government stated the method of selecting FC legislators did not conform to the principle of universal suffrage, but it took no steps to eliminate the FCs.
Under the Basic Law, LegCo members may not introduce bills that affect public expenditure, the political structure, or government policy; only the government may introduce these types of bills. The SAR sends 36 deputies to the mainland's NPC and had 199 delegates in the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference–bodies that operate under the direction of the CCP and do not exercise legislative independence. The approval of the CE, two-thirds of LegCo, and two-thirds of the SAR's delegates to the NPC are required to place an amendment of the Basic Law on the agenda of the NPC, which has the sole power to amend the Basic Law.
Voters directly elected all 431 of Hong Kong's district council seats in November, following the government's elimination of appointed district council seats. Previously, the CE used his authority to appoint 68 of the 534 members of the district councils, the SAR's most grassroots-level elected bodies.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In 2012, in a process widely criticized as undemocratic, the 1,193-member CE Election Committee, dominated by proestablishment electors and their allies, selected former executive council convener C.Y. Leung to be the SAR's chief executive. Leung received 689 votes. The PRC's State Council formally appointed him, and President Hu Jintao swore in Leung.
The 2012 election for a new 70-member LegCo was considered generally free and fair according to the standards established in the Basic Law. Pro-PRC and proestablishment candidates won 43 of 70 LegCo seats, while prodemocracy candidates won 27.
The next chief executive election was scheduled for 2017 under an electoral process identical to the 2012 process, as the LegCo rejected an electoral reform package in June 2015. The next LegCo election was scheduled for 2016.
Between January and August, the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) received 186 complaints concerning alleged breaches of provisions under the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance. Media reported the complaints included allegations of fraudulently registering voters without their consent, bribing voters, voting after giving false or misleading information to an elections officer, incurring election expenses by persons other than the candidate or his agent, publishing false or misleading statements about a candidate, publishing election advertisements that did not meet certain requirements, failing to file election returns, and providing others with refreshments and entertainment at elections. As of August, 52 complaints were under investigation, 25 were deemed nonpursuable, and 109 were unsubstantiated after investigation. The government attributed this increase in election reports to the rural representative election held in January.
In September, in response to allegations of violations of election law, the ICAC announced it would partner with the Registration and Electoral Office and the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau to combat vote rigging. The ICAC also announced it would distribute approximately 300,000 pamphlets, hold talks at universities and at homes for the elderly, and stage exhibitions to inform the public of election laws and elicit public support for its efforts to combat voter fraud.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Pandemocratic parties faced a number of institutional challenges, which hampered them from securing a majority of the seats in the LegCo or having one of their members become CE. Of LegCo's 70 seats, 30 were selected by FCs, which were overwhelmingly supportive of the central government. The law does not permit tax-exempt contributions to political parties. The voting process helped ensure that procentral government allies controlled a majority of seats in LegCo. Additionally, the central government and its business supporters provided generous financial resources to parties that supported the central government's political agenda in the SAR, ensuring that these organizations would control the levers of government and senior positions.
Participation of Women and Minorities: Six of the 30 members of the Executive Council (cabinet-level secretaries and "nonofficial" councilors who advise the CE) were women. Nine of the 40 directly elected LegCo members were women, and women held two of the 35 FC seats. Thirteen of the 45 most senior government officials (secretaries, undersecretaries, and permanent secretaries) were women.
There is no legal restriction against non-Chinese running for electoral office, serving as electoral monitors, or participating in the civil service, although most elected or senior appointed positions require that the officeholder have a legal right of abode only in the SAR. There were no members of ethnic minorities in the LegCo. The government regarded ethnic origin as irrelevant to civil service appointment and did not require applicants to declare their ethnicity or race in their applications for government jobs. Some observers criticized this practice as preventing the government from monitoring hiring and promotion rates for individuals who were not ethnically Chinese.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented it effectively. The SAR continued to be viewed as relatively uncorrupt.
Corruption: Between January and August, the ICAC received 463 corruption reports involving government personnel concerning alleged breaches of anticorruption laws. As of August the ICAC had 216 under investigation, deemed 193 to be nonpursuable, and deemed 54 unsubstantiated after investigation. During the same period, authorities prosecuted 12 government personnel in eight cases based on reports received prior to 2014. One of these was convicted, while court proceedings against the other 11 remained open at year's end.
On October 5, prosecutors charged former chief executive Donald Tsang with two counts of misconduct in public office. Each count carried a maximum term of seven years' imprisonment. The two charges related to Tsang's alleged failure to disclose a conflict of interest involving his lease of a luxury Shenzhen apartment at below-market rent and his nomination of an architect under Hong Kong's honors system whom Tsang had hired to work on the Shenzhen apartment. The ICAC began its investigation into Tsang in 2012. Tsang remained free on bail while the cases proceeded.
Financial Disclosure: The SAR requires the 27 most senior civil service officials to declare their financial investments annually and the approximately 3,100 senior working-level officials to do so biennially. Policy bureaus may impose additional reporting requirements for positions seen as having a greater risk of conflict of interest. The Civil Service Bureau monitors and verifies disclosures, which are available to the public. There are criminal and administrative sanctions for noncompliance.
Public Access to Information: There is no freedom of information law. An administrative code on access to information serves as the framework for the provision of information by government bureaus and departments and the ICAC. Under the code authorities may refuse to disclose information if doing so would cause or risk causing harm or prejudice in several broad areas: national security and foreign affairs (which are reserved to the central government); immigration issues; judicial and law enforcement issues; direct risks to individuals; damage to the environment; improper gain or advantage; management of the economy; management and operation of the public service; internal discussion and advice; public employment and public appointments; research, statistics, and analysis; third-party information; business affairs; premature requests; and information on which legal restrictions apply. Political inconvenience or the potential for embarrassment were not justifiable bases for withholding information. Between January and June, the Office of the Ombudsman received 16 complaints relating to the code on access to information.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views. Prominent human rights activists critical of the central government also operated freely and maintained permanent resident status in the SAR.
Government Human Rights Bodies: There is an Office of the Ombudsman and an Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). The government appoints both the ombudsman and the EOC commissioners, who were independent in their operations. Both organizations operated without interference from the government and published critical findings in their areas of responsibility. EOC commissioner York Chow served as a vocal public advocate on minority rights, antidiscrimination for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals, access to public and commercial buildings for persons with disabilities, and other issues within the EOC's responsibility.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The law provides that all permanent residents are equal. The SAR's antidiscrimination law further prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, family status, sex, or disability. The EOC is responsible for enforcing the relevant laws and in August 2014 launched a public consultation period to determine whether residents wanted the law expanded to protect residents from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and country of origin. The EOC expected to release the results of this survey in January 2016.
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and police enforced the law effectively. Through June police received 41 allegations of rape and 504 of indecent assault.
The government regarded domestic violence against women as a serious concern and took measures to prevent and prosecute offenses. It effectively enforced criminal statutes prohibiting domestic violence against women and prosecuted violators. From January to June, police investigated 690 domestic violence-related cases. The law allows victims to seek a three-month injunction, extendable to six months, against an abuser. The ordinance does not criminalize domestic violence directly, but abusers may be liable for criminal charges under other ordinances. The government enforced the law and prosecuted violators, but sentences typically consisted only of injunctions or restraining orders.
The law covers molestation between married couples, homosexual and heterosexual cohabitants, former spouses or cohabitants, and immediate and extended family members. It protects victims under age 18, allowing them to apply for an injunction in their own right, with the assistance of an adult guardian, against molestation by their parents, siblings, and specified immediate and extended family members. The law also empowers the court to require that the abuser attend an antiviolence program. In cases in which the abuser caused bodily harm, the court may attach an authorization of arrest to an existing injunction and extend both injunctions and authorizations for arrest to two years.
The government maintained programs that provided intervention and counseling to batterers. Sixty-five integrated family service centers and 11 family and child protective services units offered services to domestic violence victims and batterers. The government continued its public information campaign to strengthen families and combat violence, and increased public education on the prevention of domestic violence.
Activists reported domestic violence was more prevalent against ethnic minority women.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment or discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, and pregnancy. The law applies to both men and women, and police enforced the law effectively.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.
Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men.
According to gender-rights activists and public policy analysts, while the law treats men and women equally in terms of property rights in divorce settlements and inheritance matters, women faced discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion (see section 7.d.).
The law authorizes the EOC to work towards the elimination of discrimination and harassment as well as to promote equal opportunity between men and women. A Women's Commission served as an advisory body for policies related to women, and a number of NGOs were active in raising problems of societal attitudes and discrimination against women.
Birth Registration: All Chinese nationals born in the SAR or abroad to parents of whom at least one is a PRC-national Hong Kong permanent resident acquire both PRC citizenship and Hong Kong permanent residence, the latter allowing the right of abode in the SAR. Children born in the SAR to non-Chinese parents, at least one of whom is a Hong Kong permanent resident, acquire SAR permanent residence and qualify to apply for naturalization as PRC citizens. Registration of all such statuses was routine.
Child Abuse: From January through June, police received 437 reports of child abuse: 190 involved physical abuse (referring to victims younger than 14) and 247 involved sexual abuse (referring to victims younger than 17). The law mandates protection for victims of child abuse (battery, assault, neglect, abandonment, and sexual exploitation), and the government enforced the law. The law allows for the prosecution of certain sexual offenses, including against minors, committed outside the territory of the SAR.
The government provided parent-education programs, including instruction on child abuse prevention, in all 50 of the Department of Health's maternal and child health centers. It also provided public education programs to raise awareness of child abuse and alert children about how to protect themselves. The Social Welfare Department provided clinical psychologists for its clinical psychology units and social workers for its family and child protective services units. Police maintained a child abuse investigation unit and in collaboration with the Social Welfare Department ran a child witness support program. A law on child-care centers helped prevent unsuitable persons from providing childcare services.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 16, and parents' written consent is required for marriage before the age of 21. There was no evidence of early or forced marriage in the SAR.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: There were reports of girls under the age of 18 from some countries in Asia being subjected to sex trafficking in the SAR.
The legal age of consent for heterosexuals is 16. Under the law a person having "unlawful sexual intercourse" with a victim under 16 is subject to five years' imprisonment, while having unlawful sexual intercourse with a victim under 13 carries a sentence of life imprisonment.
The law makes it an offense to possess, produce, copy, import, or export pornography involving a child under the age of 18 or to publish or cause to be published any advertisement that conveys or is likely to be understood as conveying the message that a person has published, publishes, or intends to publish any child pornography. Authorities generally enforced the law. The penalty for creation, publication, or advertisement of child pornography is eight years' imprisonment, while possession carries a penalty of five years' imprisonment.
International Child Abductions: The SAR is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State's country-specific information at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/country/hong-kong-sar.html.
The Jewish community numbered 5,000 to 6,000 persons and reported few acts of anti-Semitism during the year. There were concerns within the Jewish community about some religious sermons in the otherwise moderate Muslim community.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State's Trafficking in Persons Report.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, air travel and other transportation, and the provision of other state services, and the government generally enforced these provisions. The government generally implemented laws and programs to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to buildings, information, and communications, although there were reports of some restrictions.
The Disability Discrimination Ordinance states that children with special education needs must have equal opportunity in accessing education. It is against the law for a school to discriminate against a student with a disability. According to the government, students with significant or multiple disabilities are, with parental consent, placed in special segregated schools, while students with less significant disabilities are enrolled in mainstream schools. There were occasional media reports about alleged abuses in education and mental health facilities; the most recent court case involving such abuses was in 2011.
The SAR implemented a range of legislative, administrative, and other measures to enhance the rights of persons with disabilities. Some human rights groups argued that the SAR adhered to its own Disability Discrimination Ordinance, which they considered too limited and assessed did not oblige the government to promote equal opportunities.
The Social Welfare Department (SWD), directly or in coordination with NGOs and employers, provided training and vocational rehabilitation services to assist persons with disabilities. The SWD offered subsidized resident-care services for persons considered unable to live independently and offered places for preschool services to children with disabilities. The government reported the SWD also provided community support services for persons with mental disabilities, their families, and other local residents.
Instances of discrimination against persons with disabilities persisted in employment, education, and the provision of some public services (also see section 7.d.). The law calls for improved building access and sanctions against those who discriminate. Despite inspections and the occasional closure of noncompliant businesses, access to public buildings (including public schools) and transportation remained a serious problem for persons with disabilities.
Persons with disabilities protested that the government discriminated against them, claiming that those who lived with their families could qualify for social security only by moving out of their families' homes and living alone or if all family members quit their jobs. The government refuted this claim, noting that the government instituted a disability allowance program for the more significantly disabled (defined as those with "100 percent loss of earning capacity") to help persons with disabilities meet specific needs arising from their condition. Additionally, as with all citizens of the SAR facing financial hardship, persons with disabilities could apply for comprehensive social security assistance.
According to the EOC, the SAR lagged in providing equal opportunities for students with disabilities, despite having operated an integrated education policy since 1997.
Although 94 percent ethnic Chinese, Hong Kong is a multi-ethnic society with persons from a number of ethnic groups recognized as permanent residents with full rights under the law. The law prohibits discrimination, and the EOC oversees implementation and enforcement of the law. The Race Relations Unit, which is subordinate to the Home Affairs Bureau, served as secretariat to the Committee on the Promotion of Racial Harmony and implemented the committee's programs. The EOC maintained a hotline for inquiries and complaints concerning racial discrimination. The EOC's code of practice (along with selected other EOC materials) was available in Hindi, Thai, Urdu, Nepali, Indonesian, and Tagalog, in addition to Chinese and English.
The government introduced a Second Language Learning Framework for children of ethnic minorities in primary and secondary schools in the 2014-15 school year. Rights activists welcomed an apparent change of "mind set" by the government and pointed out what was needed was a curriculum for teaching Chinese as a second language, not a vague "framework."
The Race Relations Unit sponsored a cross-cultural learning program for non-Chinese speaking youth through grants to NGOs.
The government has a policy to integrate non-Chinese students into the SAR's schools. The government also provided a special grant for schools with a critical mass of non-Chinese students to develop their own programs, share best practices with other schools, develop supplementary curriculum materials, and set up Chinese-language support centers to provide after-school programs. Activists and scholars also noted that these programs encouraging predominantly Chinese schools to welcome minority students backfired, turning certain schools into "segregated institutions." These schools reportedly did not teach Chinese to the non-ethnic Chinese students, although the government encouraged the parents of non-Chinese speaking children to enroll their children in programs for preprimary Chinese language learners. Students who did not learn Chinese had significant difficulty entering university and the labor market, according to government and NGO reports. According to the press, 31 of the 852 government schools enrolled mostly ethnic minorities and offered limited Chinese language instruction.
Activists expressed concern that there was no formal government-sponsored course to prepare students for the General Certificate for Secondary Education examination in Chinese, a passing grade from which is required for most civil service employment. The government provided funds to subsidize the cost of these examinations.
In September activists and local scholars released a study indicating minority students were less likely to attend kindergarten or stay in school, and faced employment discrimination (see section 7.d.).
Activists and the government disputed whether new immigrants from the mainland should be considered as a population of concern under antidiscrimination laws. While concerns were raised that new immigrants do not qualify to receive social welfare benefits until they have resided in the SAR for seven years, the courts upheld this legal standard. Such immigrants could apply on a case-specific basis for assistance.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. While the SAR has laws that ban discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, disability, and family status, no law prohibits companies from discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTI professionals are permitted to bring partners to the SAR only on a "prolonged visitor visa." Successful applicants, however, cannot work, obtain an identification card, or qualify for permanent residency. The government claimed public education and existing civil and criminal laws were sufficient to protect the rights of the LGBTI community and that legislation was not necessary. No additional legislative mechanisms existed to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the LGBTI community.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions without previous authorization or excessive requirements and to conduct legal strikes, but it does not protect the right to collective bargaining or obligate employers to bargain. Trade unions claimed the law allows employers simply to refuse to bargain. The law explicitly prohibits civil servants from bargaining collectively; the International Labor Organization (ILO) advised this restriction was too broad and not in line with international standards.
Trade unions must register with the government's Registry of Trade Unions and must have a minimum membership of seven persons for registration. Workers were not prevented from unionizing, but only Hong Kong residents could join unions or serve as union officers. The law allows the use of union funds for political purposes, provided a union has the authorization of the majority of its voting members at a general meeting.
The law provides for the right to strike, although there are some restrictions on this right for civil servants. According to the Employment Ordinance, an employer cannot fire, penalize, or discriminate against an employee who exercises his or her union rights and cannot prevent or deter the employee from exercising such rights. Under the Employment Ordinance, an employee unreasonably and unlawfully dismissed (including on the grounds of the employee exercising trade union rights) is entitled to reinstatement or reengagement, subject to mutual consent of the employer and the employee, or compensation up to a maximum of HK$150,000 ($19,300) for unreasonable and unlawful dismissal. The ILO advised the government to take legislative action to make noncompliance with a reinstatement order a criminal offense.
Penalties for violations of laws providing for freedom of association and collective bargaining laws included fines payable to the government as well as legal damages paid to workers and were sufficient to deter violations. Under the Employment Ordinance, employers who violated antiunion laws were liable to a fine of HK$100,000 ($13,000).
The government effectively enforced such laws. The Workplace Consultation Promotion Division in the Labor Department facilitated communication, consultation, and voluntary negotiation between employers and employees. Tripartite committees for each of the nine sectors of the economy included representatives from some trade unions, employers, and the Labor Department. During a labor dispute, the Labor Relations Division of the Labor Department facilitates conciliation so that the dispute can be settled with minimum friction and disruption.
Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. Prodemocracy labor activists alleged, however, that only progovernment unions were able to participate substantively in the tripartite process, while the prodemocracy Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions was consistently excluded.
Although there is no legislative prohibition against strikes and the right and freedom to strike are enshrined in the Basic Law, most workers had to sign employment contracts that typically stated walking off the job was a breach of contract and could lead to summary dismissal. Various sections of the Employment Ordinance prohibit firing an employee for striking and void any section of an employment contract that would punish a worker for striking. As in past years, thousands of workers participated in the annual May 1 Labor Day march calling for a raise in the minimum wage, better worker protections, and standard working hours. According to the government, there were no reports that employers fired workers for participating in a strike during the year. The government reported that as of September, two strikes involving 106 workers had occurred. Activists claimed more strikes took place but that the government did not want to tarnish the SAR's business-friendly image by acknowledging them.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law does not prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, nor do laws specifically criminalize forced labor.
NGOs voiced concerns some migrant workers faced high levels of indebtedness assumed as part of the terms of employment, creating a risk they could fall victim to debt bondage. The SAR allows for the collection of placement fees up to 10 percent of the first month's wages. Some locally licensed employment agencies were suspected of colluding with agencies in the Philippines and Indonesia to profit from a debt scheme, and some local agencies illegally confiscated the passports, employment contracts, and automatic teller machine cards of domestic workers and withheld them until their debt had been repaid. The government conveyed its concerns about these cases to a number of foreign missions.
There also were reports that some employers illegally forbade domestic workers from leaving the residence of work for nonwork-related reasons, effectively preventing them from reporting exploitation to authorities. SAR authorities claimed they encouraged aggrieved workers to lodge complaints and make use of government conciliation services, as well as actively pursued reports of any labor violations.
Also see the Department of State's Trafficking in Persons Report.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
There are laws and regulations that provide for protections of children from exploitation in the workplace. Regulations prohibit employment of children under age 15 in any industrial establishment. Other regulations limit work hours in the manufacturing sector for persons ages 15-17 to eight hours per day and 48 hours per week between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. The law prohibits overtime in industrial establishments with employment in dangerous trades for persons under the age of 18.
Children aged 13-14 may work in certain nonindustrial establishments, subject to conditions aimed at ensuring a minimum of nine years of education and protection of their safety, health, and welfare.
The Labor Department effectively enforced these laws and regularly inspected workplaces to enforce compliance with the regulations. Penalties for violations of child labor laws include fines and legal damages up to HK$50,000 ($6,500) and were sufficient to deter violations. In the first eight months of the year, the Labor Department detected no violations of child labor regulations.
There were some reports that girls from some countries in Asia were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).
d. Discrimination with respect to Employment or Occupation
The law and regulations prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnicity, disability, family status (marital status and/or pregnancy), sex, or disability. The law stipulates employers must prove that proficiency in a particular language is a justifiable job requirement if they reject a candidate on these grounds.
The government generally enforced these laws and regulations, as the SAR's courts had broad powers to levy penalties on those who violated these laws and regulations. Penalties included ordering reinstatement of employees as well as the awarding of damages for loss or emotional damages. These penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Regulations do not prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of color, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status.
Women reported they faced discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion, and some victims filed lawsuits on these grounds. NGOs assessed gender discrimination was more widespread, but many women preferred not to file discrimination cases. Women reportedly formed the majority of the working poor and those who fell outside the protection of labor laws. Instances of discrimination against persons with disabilities persisted in employment. The government estimated approximately 81,000 persons with disabilities were economically active throughout the SAR, 76,200 of whom were employed.
Activists and local scholars released a study in September indicating minority students were more likely to hold low-paying, low-skilled jobs and earn below-average wages. Academics assessed the lack of Chinese language skills were the greatest barriers to employment. Minority group leaders and activists reported government requirements for all job applicants to speak Chinese kept nonnative Chinese speakers out of civil service and law enforcement positions. The police force reportedly employed 100 nonethnic-Chinese constables during the year.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The statutory minimum hourly wage was re-adjusted to HK$32.50 ($4.18) in May for all new contracts signed after October 1. The government also increased the mandatory food allowance for persons working in homes where their employers did not provide meals. On October 1, the SAR increased domestic workers' minimum monthly wage from HK$4,110 ($529) to HK$4,210 ($542) and increased the minimum monthly food allowance from HK$964 ($124) to HK$995 ($128).
The official poverty line was half of the median monthly household income before tax and welfare transfers, based on household size. For a one-person household, the poverty line was set at HK$3,600 ($463), for a two-person household HK$7,700 ($990), for a three-person household HK$11,500 ($1,480), and so on. According to this definition, more than 1.3 million persons (in a population of approximately 7.2 million) were living in poverty.
There is no law concerning working hours, paid weekly rest, rest breaks, or compulsory overtime for most employees. For certain groups and occupations, such as security guards and certain categories of drivers, there are regulations and guidelines on working hours and rest breaks. The law stipulates that employees are entitled to 12 days of statutory holidays and employers must not make payment in lieu of granting holidays.
The government's Standard Employment Contract requires employers to provide foreign domestic workers with housing, worker's compensation insurance, travel allowances, and food or a food allowance in addition to the minimum wage, which together provided a decent standard of living. In its explanation of why live-in domestic workers (both local and foreign) would not be covered by the statutory minimum wage, the government explained "the distinctive working pattern–round-the-clock presence, provision of service-on-demand, and the multifarious domestic duties expected of live-in domestic workers–made it impossible to ascertain the actual hours worked so as to determine the wages to be paid."
Foreign domestic workers could be deported if dismissed. After leaving one employer, workers have two weeks to secure new employment before they must leave the SAR. Activists contended this restriction left workers vulnerable to abuse by employers. Workers who pursued complaints through legal channels could be granted leave to remain in the SAR but could not work, leaving them either to live from savings or depend on charitable assistance. The government contended the "two-week rule" was necessary to maintain effective immigration control and prevent migrant workers from overstaying and taking unauthorized work.
During the first eight months of the year, the Labor Tribunal received 973 employment cases involving foreign domestic workers, most of which the government said were related to nonpayment or underpayment of wages and wrongful dismissal. The tribunal convicted three employers on 17 counts of wage default, annual leave default, and failure to pay awards in cases relating to the employment of foreign domestic workers. Domestic workers could also be subject to physical and verbal abuse, poor living and working conditions, and limitations on freedom of movement.
In December 2014 a trial began in a case involving an Indonesian domestic helper, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih allegedly severely abused while working for her former employer, who was charged with violations of labor and criminal laws. Erwiana's former employer, Law Wan-tung, was sentenced to six years in prison in February after being convicted of 18 out of 20 charges, including assault and criminal intimidation.
Regarding maximum hours and rest periods, the government stated the rules on these issues cover local and migrant workers.
Laws exist to provide for health and safety of workers in the workplace. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. No laws restrict work during typhoon or rainstorm warnings. The Labor Department issued a "code of practice" on work arrangements in times of severe weather, which includes a recommendation that employers require only essential staff to come to work during certain categories of typhoon or rainstorm warnings. Both progovernment and pandemocratic unions called for a review of protections for workers during inclement weather, including legal protections.
Data on the number of labor inspectors working for the Department of Labor during the year were unavailable. Penalties for violations of minimum wage or occupational safety and health violations included fines, payments of damages, and worker's compensation payments. These penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Occupational Safety and Health Branch of the Labor Department is responsible for safety and health promotion, enforcement of safety management legislation, and policy formulation and implementation; it enforced occupational safety and health laws effectively.
Employers and employer associations often set wages. Additionally, some activists claimed that employers used employment contracts that defined workers as "self-employed" to avoid employer-provided benefits, such as paid leave, sick leave, medical insurance, workers' compensation, or Mandatory Provident Fund payments. According to the Labor Department, there were cases in which employers faced heavy court fines for such behavior. The department held that it was seeking to promote public awareness, consultation, conciliation services, and tougher enforcement to safeguard employees' rights.
According to the General Household Survey conducted by the Census and Statistics Department during the year, approximately 17 percent of employees worked 60 hours or more per week. In the first quarter, the Labor Department recorded 7,786 occupational injuries, including 2,404 classified as industrial accidents, most of which occurred in the construction, manufacturing, and transportation sectors. In the same period, there were five fatal industrial accidents. Employers are required to report any injuries sustained by their employees in work-related accidents. Labor activists continued to raise concerns about fatal industrial accidents, which primarily occurred in construction and infrastructure industries.