World and Nation

UN urges China to allow free elections in Hong Kong

HONG KONG — The U.N. Human Rights Committee urged China on Thursday to allow elections in Hong Kong without restrictions on who can run as a candidate. The move appeared likely to draw strong criticism from Beijing, where officials decided in August to set strict guidelines for the 2017 election of the city’s next leader, prompting mass sit-in protests.

The 18-member panel in Geneva said Hong Kong needed to do more to ensure that its people have not only the right to vote but also the right to run for office.

“Hong Kong China should take all necessary measures to implement universal and equal suffrage in conformity with the covenant, as a matter of priority for all future elections,” Cornelis Flinterman, a member of the rights panel from the Netherlands, said Thursday, referring to an international agreement on political rights.

The committee focused on the Aug. 31 decision by China’s Communist Party-run legislature to adopt guidelines for the 2017 election that would effectively keep anyone not approved by Beijing from appearing on the ballot for chief executive, the city’s top post.

Under the guidelines, candidates must get the approval of more than half the members of a 1,200-person nominating committee, which includes many of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing tycoons as well as representatives of other social groups friendly to the central government. The city, Asia’s most important financial center, was transferred from British to Chinese rule in 1997, and its legal and administrative system is separate from that of the rest of China.

Yuval Shany, a member of the rights panel from Israel, said the nominating committee was “not fully representative of the Hong Kong population.”

Democracy advocates warned Beijing for more than a year that the proposed restrictions would touch off large-scale protests in the heart of the city. After the guidelines were adopted anyway, activists in the city, led by students, staged sit-ins in the main business district and two busy shopping areas, occupying vital avenues and blocking traffic.

Those sites are still occupied, more than three weeks later. Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents have been drawn to the protests, and there have been frequent clashes with the police and with people opposed to the pro-democracy movement.

The U.N. panel said Hong Kong’s performance in following the panel’s recommendations was “not satisfactory” and gave the Hong Kong government two months to reply.

A poll released this week by the Chinese University of Hong Kong showed growth in support for the goals of the student-led protests. Among 802 people ages 15 and older surveyed in Hong Kong between Oct. 8 and Oct. 15, 38 percent said they supported the protests, compared with 31 percent in September; 35 percent were opposed in the new poll, compared with 46 percent in September.