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LONDON: The last British governor of Hong Kong said Monday (Jun 20) that Beijing’s crackdown on civil liberties in the former British colony has been “a lot worse” than he expected.

Chris Patten, who led Britain’s last government in Hong Kong before the city was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, said it was “heartbreaking” to see the situation in the city as he launched a new book to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the handover on Jul 1.

“I thought there was a prospect that (China) would keep its word, and I’m sorry that it hasn’t,” he said in London. “I just find it intensely difficult. I do believe that Hong Kong is a great city, I hope it will be a great city again.”

But he added that he wasn’t hopeful. “I’ll believe that things are changing when some of those who’ve gone into exile in the last few years start to want to go back to China, to Hong Kong,” he told The Associated Press. “And that isn’t happening at the moment.”

Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” principle that was supposed to preserve for 50 years its civil liberties – including freedom of speech and assembly – not found elsewhere on mainland China.

But Beijing has intensified its crackdown on the city in recent years. Since authorities introduced a wide-ranging national security law in 2020, dissenting media have been shut down and over 150 people have been arrested on suspicion of offences including subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion to intervene in the city’s affairs.