Advocacy groups have voiced concern and disappointment after the government dismissed reports that Hong Kong's human rights situation is deteriorating at a UN meeting in Geneva.
Addressing the meeting for the UN's Universal Periodic Review, the Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said there are no human rights problems in Hong Kong, fears over press freedom are totally unfounded and that there is no evidence of mainland agents taking extrajudicial action in the city.
This comes despite rights groups voicing serious concern over the situation here. Issues raised include a previous government suggestion that it may quit an international ban on torture, the city's fall in a global press freedom index, and suspected abduction of the five Causeway Bay booksellers by mainland agents.
Addressing the annual meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said human rights in Hong Kong are fully protected by the Basic Law. He added that the rule of law, an independent judiciary and freedom of speech are among Hong Kong's core values.
"Recent concerns over some aspects of our human rights situation are unwarranted, unfounded and unsubstantiated. They arise from misconception and a lack of understanding of our real situation," he said.
Addressing questions on the refusal of a work visa for the Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet, Cheung said: "We are firmly committed to protecting press freedom. We do not exercise any censorship. On a recent work visa extension case, we will not comment on any specific decision on our immigration control ... Any concerns that Hong Kong's freedom of speech and of the press is under threat are totally groundless."
Earlier in the year, Mallet had chaired a talk by pro-independence activist Chan Ho-tin at the Foreign Correspondents' Club, despite coming under heavy criticism from the SAR government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for giving the secession advocate a platform to speak
Cheung also dismissed a question from US representatives over reports that mainland security or law officers had illegally operated in Hong Kong.
In 2015, five booksellers from the same Causeway Bay store disappeared from Hong Kong, the mainland and Thailand. Months later all of them were found to be on the mainland. One of the men, Swedish national Gui Minhai, is believed to still be in custody. Another of the booksellers claimed he had been abducted and illegally held for months over the sale of books critical of the Communist Party.
The Chief Secretary said: "On speculations of authorities of other jurisdictions taking law enforcement actions in Hong Kong, our police have investigated and found no evidence in support of such claims."
Concluding his address, Cheung lauded the city's free economy and its safety. He said the government was committed to building a caring and fair Hong Kong.
Simon Henderson, a spokesman for the Universal Periodic Review Coalition, an umbrella group of several rights-related organisations in Hong Kong, said the government's denial of any problems was disappointing.
"Today we had a response from the international community that expressed real and substantial concerns with the increasing erosion of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong.
"For the first time in the Universal Periodic Review process foreign governments have made specific recommendations on Hong Kong. So to claim that the recommendations, and questions that were raised in advance are misconceived or somehow groundless, it ignores the concerns of the international community," Henderson said.
He said that civil society and the international community have called for an independent investigation into the detention and abduction of the Causeway Bay booksellers.
"A question was raised in advance by Switzerland to find out more information from the Hong Kong and Chinese governments about the matter - specifically naming Gui Minhai, who remains under detention on the mainland," Henderson said. "It's just not sufficient for the Chief Secretary to so quickly dismiss these sorts of concerns."