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The UK must stop coronavirus being weaponised to violate human rights in Hong Kong

This weekend, at least 14 pro-democracy campaigners were arrested on charges of “illegal assembly”, writes Andrew Rosindell MP. | PA Images

4 min read

I have tabled a motion calling for Magnitsky-style sanctions against China, enabling the UK to target individuals who authorise and commit abuses of human rights overseas, showing China their actions will no longer go unchallenged.

Hong Kong is currently navigating unprecedented times. Hongkongers are being irrefutably denied their basic human rights, their autonomy has been consistently undermined and they are now dealing with the devastation caused by coronavirus, which their puppet government did not adequately protect them from.

This weekend, at least 14 pro-democracy campaigners were arrested on charges of “illegal assembly”. These arrests took place just hours after China’s top representative office declared it is not bound by Hong Kong’s constitutional restrictions that bar the Chinese Government from interfering in local affairs. The UK government must act now to defend international human rights law. It is in this light that I recently tabled a new Commons Motion, calling for Magnitsky-style sanctions as promised by the Conservative Manifesto, as a means to combat this injustice.

China is failing to uphold the basic principles of human rights guaranteed by Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which are set down in the Sino-British Joint Declaration. The UK and China signed this declaration in 1984, legally guaranteeing that Hong Kong post-handover would remain largely unchanged and that Hong Kong would retain its independent judiciary and administration. Registered with the United Nations, the treaty states that the “rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association… will be ensured by law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”.

The introduction of the Hong Kong Extradition Bill was the most recent disregard of this treaty, which led to unprecedented public uproar in Hong Kong. The proposed law would have permitted extraditions to mainland China, potentially legalising heinous abductions to the mainland that have taken place in Hong Kong for years. China’s 99.9% conviction rate demonstrates the danger this law poses. This is the latest example of China’s blatant denial of basic freedoms and encroachment upon the autonomy of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong police have since used the coronavirus outbreak to mask mass manipulation, intimidation and abuse of Hongkongers.

The result – a wave of massive protests, unprecedented in Hong Kong’s history – clearly signal the scale of the opposition to China’s continued erosion and undermining of the civil liberties of Hongkongers. The Hong Kong Assembly has responded to these protests tellingly. While trying to quash the issue and present a façade of cooperation, Hong Kong officials have attempted to forcibly repress Hongkongers with complete disregard for their wellbeing and rights. This tactic only proves the legitimacy of the protests and validates the argument that the Joint Declaration is being blatantly disregarded. Hong Kong police have since used the coronavirus outbreak to mask mass manipulation, intimidation and abuse of Hongkongers as well as using health policies to target pro-democracy restaurants and facilities and arrest campaigners.

The Declaration ties the UK to Hong Kong, and we have a profound moral duty to uphold Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy. To fulfil this duty, the UK government must implement its own Magnitsky-style sanctions regime. The Commons Motion that I tabled was introduced to highlight this mechanism, and it has galvanised cross-party support. It hopes to encourage the government’s development of a sanctions regime, which would enable the UK to target individuals who authorise and commit abuses of human rights overseas. The motion also urges the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to identify those in Hong Kong culpable for its brutal response to the protests.

If the UK government waits too long to legislate Magnitsky-style sanctions, China’s alleged human rights abuses will remain unchecked. The Commons Motion that I tabled highlights the UK’s historic, legal and moral duty to protect the rights of Hongkongers. Implementing Magnitsky-style sanctions will allow us to uphold this duty and help to reconcile the strain on our relationship with Hong Kong caused by China’s continued erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms. We must not ignore the ongoing human rights violations ongoing across Hong Kong because of coronavirus, which in itself has been weaponised by the Hong Kong Police Force.

Sanctions will also operate as a tangible deterrent so that the Chinese Government will think twice before daring to impose such draconian measures like those seen in the Extradition Bill. It is for this reason that we must act now, and introduce a sanctions regime which shows China their actions will no longer go unchallenged.


Andrew Rosindell is the Conservative MP for Romford. 

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