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Wed, 30 September 2020

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We need urgent sanctions to protect the rights and freedoms of Hongkongers

We need urgent sanctions to protect the rights and freedoms of Hongkongers

Police were reported to have forced their way into consultations to influence the reports of medical staff and intimidate patients in their beds, writes Lord Shinkwin. | PA Images

5 min read

Hong Kong healthcare is being forced to operate in the face of unacceptable intimidation tactics and abuse perpetrated by the police. We must impose sanctions now and send a clear message to China.

To many, Hong Kong was not simply synonymous with freedom – it set the gold standard. Freedom of enterprise and conscience went hand-in-hand as the hallmarks of this flourishing, autonomous and unique region which thrived as a world-class financial hub. Not any more.

Within a remarkably short time, the Chinese Communist Party has reduced one of China’s greatest success stories to a shadow of its former self, and not just in terms of its enterprising spirit. The spirit of its people is being crushed – deliberately, cynically and systematically.

Nowhere is this more evident than in healthcare, when citizens should be able to look to the state for help at moments of extreme vulnerability when they are ill or injured.

As vice-chair of the Hong Kong APPG, I have read numerous testimonies from Hongkongers, provided as part of our inquiry into human rights abuses, that reveal the shocking extent to which its hitherto exemplary healthcare system is being compromised by Communist coercion.

In short, Hong Kong healthcare is now being forced to operate in the face of unacceptable intimidation tactics and abuse perpetrated by the police.

Our inquiry heard testimonies about contingents of police marching through hospitals. Clad in riot helmets, shields and heavy-duty boots, openly carrying firearms, police were reported to have forced their way into consultations to influence the reports of medical staff and intimidate patients in their beds.

Orwellian as this sounds, these reports aren’t from a dystopian novel or from a war zone. They’re from a Hong Kong descending into the brutal reality of a police state.

The agents of the Communist state are suppressing their own people and committing human rights abuses on a criminal scale, with little or no regard for how this is perceived internationally.

An especially sobering read was the evidence from Hong Kong surgeon Dr Darren Mann who revealed the lengths to which police officers have gone to prevent people from receiving proper medical care.

He tells of patients brought to hospital with injuries blatantly caused by the police. Yet doctors are often unable to provide the correct treatment or even make accurate records of the case because the police accompany the injured and relay a different story to protect themselves from incrimination.

Armed police have been known to intimidate citizens on the street outside hospitals, inside the buildings and, in two particularly disturbing cases, attempted to force their way into a surgical theatre and interrogated a 19-year-old pregnant woman at her bedside in a labour ward.

Is it any wonder that the mental health of the Hong Kong population is deteriorating? It’s reported that around a third of the city’s residents – an estimated two million adults – are reporting symptoms of PTSD.

What further proof is needed that the Beijing-backed Hong Kong Government is waging all-out war on its citizens? The agents of the Communist state are suppressing their own people and committing human rights abuses on a criminal scale, with little or no regard for how this is perceived internationally.

More than 1,000 brave Hongkongers have risked their lives and freedom to bring evidence of these injustices to our attention, and for that they deserve our heartfelt thanks and admiration – not their disdainful dismissal by those whose TV studio lies fool no one.

The sad realities revealed by the APPG’s investigation demonstrate that the Chinese Communist Party’s puppet regime in Hong Kong is in breach of international humanitarian law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration, supposedly signed in good faith by both sides.

Yet they do more than that. For they also highlight a simpler truth: far from being the actions of a strong regime, the abuses bravely reported to our inquiry expose a leadership beset by chronic insecurity at the highest levels.

This is a system whose security depends on suppression. Its abuses represent a real and immediate threat to every one of us who believes in Parliamentary democracy. It is therefore our duty to display the courage demonstrated by the people and stand up for Hong Kong.

That is why I urge all my fellow Parliamentarians, as we return from the August recess, to see the regime’s derisory denials for what they are worth and support the adoption of the recommendations of the APPG’s report.

In particular I ask them to call on the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, to build on his recent welcome announcements and take the logical and necessary next step by announcing Magnitsky-style sanctions against those responsible for the abuses including, but by no means limited to, Hong Kong chief executive, Carrie Lam.

The UK Government committed to protecting Hong Kong’s citizens and their rights when it signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration back in 1984. I applaud the stand we have taken recently. However, if we truly value the freedoms which underpin our Parliamentary democracy, we must go further – and quickly.

Just as the Chinese Communist regime’s treatment of Hong Kong has shown corruption and suppression to be their principal exports, so must we signal – by imposing sanctions – that we remain committed to the global export of freedom of conscience and enterprise. Otherwise there is the very real risk that Hong Kong’s beacon to the world will be forever snuffed out by a regime frightened of the one thing we claim to value most: freedom.

The Chinese Communists know that the strategic stakes could not be higher; they need to be seen to win this contest – game, set and match. For the future of democracy, we cannot afford to let that happen.

 

Lord Shinkwin is a Conservative peer and vice-chair of the Hong Kong APPG.

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