Now more than ever we must take action to uphold the human rights of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong
Earlier this month, I joined forces with Christian leaders from around the world to call for a Chinese New Year amnesty for Jimmy Lai and other activists remanded in custody under the National Security Law.
In the letter sent to the Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, we drew attention to the harsh sentences that could be given to those who are awaiting trial, and the real possibility that Jimmy Lai, a British Citizen, might spend the rest of his life in jail.
It was important to signal to the world and to those arrested who are undoubtably anxious about their future and safety, that Christians globally have not forgotten their plight and will continue to lobby for their release.
The National Security Law was the Hong Kong government’s response to the widespread 2019 protests against the Anti-Extradition Law and its eponymous provisions to allow extradition to mainland China. Unfortunately for Hong Kongers, this supposed medicine to restore order proved equally as damaging as the initial virus they were protesting against.
The supporters of democracy, institutional transparency, and free speech deserve better than to be criminalised as foreign subversives
The National Security Law established wide-ranging new criminal offences, including the verbal promotion of Hong Kong’s secession from China as well as mandating publishers, hosting services and internet service providers to remove, restrict or block content deemed threatening to China’s ruling communist party ideology.
Whilst many suspected that the unique east-west culture and democratic freedoms of the territory would be de facto eroded over time, the National Security Law and subsequent legislation altering the electoral system have de jure ended the system of “One Country, Two Systems”. There is no longer freedom of speech and the electoral system now all but ensures that those within the pro-democracy camp are disqualified from the legislature.
Unfortunately, this is the new normal for Hong Kong. For those who campaigned against the extradition bill back in 2019, they face the prospect of being indicted on terror, sedition or secession charges brought in by the National Security Law, punishable with a maximum life sentence.
Hong Kong, at least for the foreseeable future, is not the same as it once was. However, the UK still retains an historic obligation to offer assistance to its people. The government has already made an offer to British National (Overseas) (BNO) passport holders via the visa scheme pathway. The exclusion of those born after the 1997 handover date, which includes the overwhelming majority of those who are facing protest-related charges, severely limits its scope and leaves many young people worried about their safety, security and freedom in Hong Kong.
For dual nationals, arrested under the National Security Law, Beijing’s decision not to recognise dual nationality in the territory leaves some western citizens languishing in uncertainty whilst being denied consular support. Despite this, the UK government needs to continue offering representation and support to Jimmy Lai, a British Citizen, just as much as other countries such as Australia ought to continue supporting their as yet unnamed citizen arrested under National Security Law.
Even for those of singular nationality, the United Kingdom retains a historic obligation, especially as many are BNO holders. The supporters of democracy, institutional transparency, and free speech deserve better than to be criminalised as foreign subversives; they acted in good conscience for what they thought should be the future of Hong Kong. Admittedly, the situation has not turned out how they had hoped, which is why now more than ever they need the UK government to take a proactive role in upholding their human rights.
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