LONDON - Britain criticised on Thursday what it said was the systematic erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong by the Chinese government and a crackdown on free speech by authorities in the former British colony.

The criticism was contained in the government's latest six-monthly report on Hong Kong, which was announced in a written statement to parliament.

"Freedoms are being systematically eroded by Beijing on multiple fronts, tightening the restrictions on the lives of ordinary Hong Kongers," British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in the foreword of the report, which covered the first half of 2022.

"The authorities continue to crack down on free speech, the free press, and free assembly. Individuals and civil society groups are censoring themselves, and most independent news outlets have been forced to close."

Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 with the guarantee of a high degree of autonomy, including freedom of speech, under a "one country, two systems" formula.

Britain has said China is failing to comply with the handover agreement. China has in the past responded to criticism by accusing Britain of acting with a colonial mindset.

In June 2020, Beijing imposed a national security law to punish terrorism, collusion with foreign forces, subversion and secession with possible life imprisonment.

That legislation has been repeatedly condemned by British authorities. Critics say authorities are using it to stifle dissent, a charge officials in Hong Kong and Beijing reject.

Earlier this week Hong Kong and Chinese authorities expressed strong opposition after a British minister met the legal team of Jimmy Lai, a jailed pro-democracy Hong Kong tycoon and founder of the now shut pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily.

(Reporting by William James, editing by Elizabeth Piper and Kylie MacLellan)