The international community must intervene because this is about the expansion of authoritarianism everywhere.
The summer of 2019 in Hong Kong was one of protest; an unprecedented local movement with global effects that took to the streets to demand an end to the now-withdrawn extradition bill, which would have allowed for defendants to be extradited to mainland China, and an end to China’s authoritarian war against freedom and democracy.
The world watched as waves of public anger flooded Hong Kong. Police officers unlawfully assaulted bystanders and protesters, arresting almost 7,000 people since protests began in early June. The coronavirus has halted our rallies temporarily but support for our demands, including for the resignation of Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, rises.
Rounds of rubber bullets being fired indiscriminately, the smell of tear gas and the scenes of bloodshed became this generation’s defining memory. We were bitterly reminded of the bloody crackdown at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
But our strong sense of justice demands that we stand up, defend our freedoms and protest against unchecked police violence, which has claimed the lives of four citizens and left more than 2,000 injured.
The call for an independent inquiry into the police’s use of force remains one of the key demands of the people of Hong Kong, and has been echoed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights who called for an “effective, prompt, independent and impartial investigation”.
Yet, the Hong Kong government has nonetheless continued to resist establishing a separate investigation mechanism, according to Amnesty International.
The government claims the existing Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), appointed by the Hong Kong government, is adequate to investigate allegations of police violence and other misconduct.
This is not true. This is a body that the UN Human Rights Committee in its Concluding Observations on Hong Kong in 2013 said had limited powers and lacked independence. It cannot subpoena documents nor summon witnesses. Between 2010 and 2018, it has only referred one case of police misconduct for prosecution.
The death of Chow Tsz-lok, a 22-year-old university student, on November 8, 2019, could have been a moment for the government and police to allow people to mourn. Instead, we were faced with ongoing police violence.
Over the past nine months, the Beijing and Hong Kong governments have intensified their strong-arm policies towards the people of Hong Kong.
Reuters reported last month that Beijing has ramped up the presence of security forces in Hong Kong to as many as 4,000 personnel.
Along with Chinese troops, 12,000 personnel are now stationed in the city – most likely the largest Chinese security deployment ever in Hong Kong.
Beijing’s top officials have urged Hong Kong to speed up the passing of national security legislation in Hong Kong to tackle political dissidents, blaming lax implementation of existing laws by government officials for the unrest.
Wang Zhenmin, director of Tsinghua University’s Centre for Hong Kong and Macau Research, argued it was an essential task for the city government to put Article 23 legislation on the agenda.
Article 23 is a clause under the Basic Law of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, which stipulates that the city must enact its own national security law – a proposal that prompted mass protests in 2003 over fears about the loss of freedom of speech and other civil liberties.
Under this clause, national security laws must ban seven types of activity; treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the central government, theft of state secrets, the hosting of political activities by foreign political organisations or bodies, and the establishment of ties between local and foreign political organisations.
But it does not end there. In February, the Hong Kong government approved the expenditure of an extra 25.8 billion Hong Kong dollars [$3.3 billion] on police forces, with its budget on tear gas and rubber bullets tripled, according to official data.
All of these clues, I believe, suggest that China plans another crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
China has continued to intensify its suppression of critical voices inside and outside of its borders.
Since 2015, human rights groups, civil rights lawyers and religious groups have been the prime targets of China’s political persecution.
Leaked documents revealed that more than one million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in China, had been detained in re-education camps in Xinjiang and assigned to factories for forced labour.
Big companies like Blizzard, Disney and many airlines have caved in to Chinese pressure by shutting down criticism of Chinese politics, banning support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and removing references to autonomous territories like Hong Kong and Taiwan.
And for the first time, China has openly breached the promise of press freedom enshrined in our “one country, two systems” framework. The Beijing government announced in March that it will expel all US journalists and bar them from reporting in China, Hong Kong and Macau.
What followed was an open letter in which the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post urged China to reconsider the move, saying it was “uniquely damaging and reckless” at a time when the world is sharing the burden of fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
To this, China gave an icy response, reiterating in an official statement that it did not accept “the arrogance and prejudice” it said was revealed in the letter.
And now, more than ever, Hong Kong finds itself under China’s growing shadow.
To prevent China from further trampling on civil liberties and silencing those it deems too critical of its governance, we need human rights sanctions as weapons.
This is why I urge the US State Department to include effective sanction mechanisms in the forthcoming report on Hong Kong’s autonomy.
I also call upon the European Union to pass the Magnitsky Act, which would require sanctions to be imposed against China and Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights abuses.
This fight is not just about Hong Kong.
This fight is a global resistance to the worldwide expansion of authoritarian regimes.
When the freedom and democracy of future generations are at stake, we ask the world to stand with us and join our fight!
The next episode of #AJOpinion will air soon, in which Lawrence Ma, barrister and chairman of the Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation, will shed light on Beijing’s and the Hong Kong government’s stance towards the unrest.