Chief Executive Carrie Lam says a huge rise in the number of protests here proves that Hong Kong people enjoy more freedom than before the 1997 handover.
She made the remarks in a Chinese-language newspaper editorial to mark the 30th anniversary of the promulgation of the Basic Law, the SAR's mini-constitution, which she said guaranteed freedom of speech, assembly and protest. The remarks did not appear in an English-language op-ed.
Some government and pro-Beijing figures also used the anniversary to call for the implementation of national security laws under Article 23 of the Basic Law, citing major anti-extradition protests last year.
Lam wrote that the Basic Law guaranteed Hong Kong people freedom in areas such as speech, assembly and protest, adding: "These are not empty talk, but are freedoms that Hong Kong citizens enjoy and exercise every day, every moment.
"For example, Hong Kong has seen over 11,000 marches and gatherings in 2019, ten times the number in 1997. This proves that the freedoms enjoyed by citizens have increased instead of decreased.
"The SAR government respects these protests as long as they are peaceful and legal, and the police will provide appropriate assistance."
She said the government would respect protests as long as they are peaceful and legal, but stressed that Hongkongers are still bound by the law when they exercise their freedoms.
The head of Beijing's Liaison Office in the SAR, Luo Huining, also referenced last year's protests against changes to the extradition law in an article published on the office's website on Saturday.
He said much of what happened during the extradition saga seriously breached the bottom line of the "One Country, Two Systems" principle.
He says Hong Kong needs to establish a legal system and enforcement mechanism that guarantees national security to prevent foreign interference and sedition.
Luo also said the Hong Kong community, especially public servants and young people, needed more education on the Constitution and the Basic Law.
CE says huge rise in protests proves HK is free
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