A former pro-democracy lawmaker in Hong Kong says people there have become “desperate” and “disaffected” as some fear the city has lost important freedoms.

The widespread protests for democracy that rocked Hong Kong in 2019 have largely subsided, in part due to the Hong Kong outbreak Covid-19 and the enactment of a controversial national security law last year.

Emily Lau, a former member of the Democratic Party of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, said some Hong Kongers now fear that “we have probably lost our freedom of expression, assembly and demonstration, maybe not forever, but for many, many years.” “

“And that’s how desperate and disaffected the people of Hong Kong are,” Lau told CNBC’s Martin Soong on Tuesday.

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Beijing bypassed Hong Kong lawmakers last year to implement a national security law. Last month, China approved sweeping changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system that critics said would hold back pro-democracy politicians.

These steps followed months of protests for democracy in 2019 that sometimes turned violent. The Chinese and Hong Kong authorities said the changes would protect national security and suppress the anti-China movement in the semi-autonomous region.

“Rights and Freedoms”

Hong Kong is a former British colony that was returned to Chinese rule in 1997. The Sino-British joint declaration signed prior to Hong Kong’s return said the city would have “a high degree of autonomy”, including legislative and independent judicial power.

“Rights and freedoms, including those of the person, speech, press, congregation, association, travel, movement, correspondence, strike, career choice, academic research, and religious belief will be legal in the SAR Hong Kong guarantees, “the statement said.

However, critics of China, including pro-democracy activists and governments like those in the US and the UK, have accused China of undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Dozens of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong have been arrested and charged under national security law. But Lau said, “I refuse to be intimidated by the silence.”

“We want China to keep the promises of the Sino-UK Joint Declaration and the Basic Law,” she said, adding that she and other activists are not trying to overthrow the Hong Kong government or the central government in Beijing.

The Basic Law is Hong Kong’s mini constitution, which enshrines the principle of “one country, two systems” by which the city is governed.

For its part, Beijing has stated that Hong Kong’s national security law and election changes are in line with the One Country, Two Systems framework.