Real action is needed to honour the second anniversary of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement
Events over the past two years paint a bleak picture for the present, and future, of Hong Kong. The UK government must impose Magnitsky-style sanctions on officials complicit in human rights abuses.
Two years ago, more than a million people braved the sweltering summer sun to march through the streets of Hong Kong.
Young and old, students and professionals, families with children, most dressed in white - symbolising the sense of hope in the moment - flooded the parks and squares of downtown districts, their voices reverberating in unison as they chanted slogans and sang songs. The peaceful procession was bound by its purpose: opposition to Beijing’s encroachment on long-cherished liberties through plans to introduce extradition to mainland China.
Two years on however, Hong Kong, the once-bustling beacon of democracy in a sea of communist subjugation, has fallen silent, save for some small, scattered voices.
What followed on June 12th 2019 marked a turning point in the history of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong - and a dark chapter in the coming fight for its freedom.
As thousands of demonstrators surrounded the Legislative Council building ahead of lawmakers’ debate on the proposed extradition bill, a small number of protesters skirmished with police outside. Authorities responded in a show of brutality that shocked Hong Kong and observers across the world.
We in the UK have a duty to be a voice for those who have been left voiceless, and stand with the people of Hong Kong
Riot police fired volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets - the latter deployed for the first time in decades - into the crowd. Charging with batons, armed officers could be seen mercilessly beating defenceless protesters, continuously shooting pepper spray at idle demonstrators, and firing bean bag rounds and water cannons at will. Dozens of protesters were treated in hospitals for injuries sustained during the police onslaught.
The disturbing scenes of violence that day offered a glimpse of what was to come for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement over the coming months, as unprecedented unrest, fueled by the authorities’ increasingly unchecked aggression, rocked the traditionally restful financial hub.
As the crackdown on anti-extradition protests escalated throughout 2019 - with mounting evidence of brutality and torture - so did the demands of protesters, who called for full democratic rights and police accountability.
A year later, under the auspices of the Beijing-imposed draconian national security law, Beijing moved swiftly to crack down on dissent in Hong Kong. In the past year, Hong Kong police have arrested at least 100 people, including 55 pro-democracy activists and politicians in dawn raids. 47 of the opposition figures arrested have since been charged with “subversion”, and face the possibility of life in prison for taking part in popular, unofficial primary elections last year after authorities postponed legislative elections.
And just last month, Hong Kong’s parliament, gutted of opposition following the mass disqualification, resignation, detention and exile of pro-democracy lawmakers, rubber-stamped the CCP-dictated ‘patriots’ only law that will drastically diminish democratic representation in the city’s parliament by slashing the share of directly elected seats in the legislature from half to just 22%.
In summary, events over the past two years paint a bleak picture for the present, and future, of Hong Kong.
However, we in the UK have a moral and historical obligation - as custodians of the joint declaration and historic champions of human rights - to the people of Hong Kong.
The UK government, whilst quick to condemn the catalogue of coercive measures by the communist regime, has sought little in the way of penalties on authorities behind the subjugation of Hong Kong and its brave defenders.
This inaction persists despite Britain last year introducing a Magnitsky-style sanctions regime designed to target those involved in human rights abuses - and indeed imposing coordinated sanctions under this new mechanism on Chinese officials accused of perpetrating gross human rights violations against the majority-Muslim Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang province.
Beijing’s dismantling of democracy and assault on freedoms in Hong Kong must not go unchallenged. As members of the Hong Kong APPG, we reiterate our call on the UK government to impose these Magnitsky-style sanctions on officials complicit in human rights abuses in Hong Kong.
Though the once-proud bastion of freedom in communist China fell mostly silent on the second anniversary of its struggle for democracy, we in the UK - many of whom take these rights for granted - have a duty to be a voice for those who have been left voiceless, and stand with the people of Hong Kong in their ceaseless struggle for freedom.
Alistair Carmichael is the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland. Siobhain McDonagh is the Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden. They are chair and vice-chair of the APPG on Hong Kong.
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