Sanctions on Hong Kong human rights abusers work – we must press the Government to use them

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2020 has a been a difficult year for people around the world. In Hong Kong, however, the situation has been dangerous for political reasons as much as public health ones. 18 months since demonstrations started against a potential extradition arrangement with China, protests have turned into a struggle for the city’s soul. Hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers have taken to the streets, standing against the looming erosion of their freedoms.

Protestors in Hong Kong are fighting for exactly the liberal values that we hold dear in our party – democracy, freedom and internationalism – values which the encroaching illiberal regime in Beijing does not care for.

The state’s retaliation against these protests has been shocking and brutal. As a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong I have heard firsthand evidence of the police’s brutality. They have committed a plethora of human rights abuses, infiltrated hospitals and launched targeted harassment campaigns against anyone connected to the pro-democracy movement.

In July, a further blow was dealt with the introduction of the National Security Laws. The new legislation broadly criminalise acts such as “sedition” or “collusion with a foreign power”. This can be applied to any act which could be perceived as criticising the Hong Kong government, by any individual, anywhere in the world. I could be prosecuted for writing this article. Perhaps you could be prosecuted for reading it! Either way, the maximum penalty under this law is life in prison.

This already sounds like enough of a dystopian nightmare and yet things have already gone further downhill in recent months. In a farcical act, Beijing removed four Hong Kong lawmakers from the city’s legislative council for the crime of being “unpatriotic”. This escalating aggression should concern anyone who believes in freedom and liberal democracy.

In response, individuals, organisations and states have rallied to support Hong Kong’s citizens. Positive steps have already been made, with an increasing list of countries revoking extradition agreements with Hong Kong, applying sanctions to those responsible for human rights abuses and ensuring that Hongkongers who are able to flee can access visas and citizenship elsewhere.

More needs to be done. Many countries have threatened sanctions but have yet to apply them. The UK implemented mechanisms for Magnitsky-style sanctions earlier this year but ministers have been slow to make use of them. With Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam admitting in recent days that she keeps her salary in piles of cash out of fear of the impact of sanctions, it has never been clearer that these measures can apply pressure on human rights abusers. If our government claims to value democracy they should have no reason to hesitate.

Support for action is growing. On Monday, 7th December, Young Liberals are co-hosting a webinar on Hong Kong. Our Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Layla Moran MP, Callum Robertson, Co-Chair of Young Liberals, myself and a representative from the grassroots organisation Stand with Hong Kong will be discussing how Liberal Democrats can show support and build momentum for positive change.

It is only when we work together in this way that we can be a force for good. Hongkongers have been standing alone against this threat for far too long. We must show them they are not alone, before it is too late.

* Alistair Carmichael is the MP for Orkney and Shetland and Liberal Democrat Chief Whip.

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  • Strange how Liberal Democrats are not so interested in democracy, freedom and internationalism when it comes to Catalonia. The party’s silence is very telling.

    Llibertat presos politics!

  • Helen Dudden 4th Dec '20 - 10:32am

    I support Catalonia and the Muslims who suffer abuse in China.
    There are other’s who suffer abuse too.

  • Under the Joint Declaration, a recognised international treaty, Britain has the right to uphold the freedoms of the Hong Kong people.

  • Steve Trevethan 4th Dec '20 - 3:19pm

    What a pity that our governments grudged the people of Hong Kong decent standards of liberalism and freedom when they ruled Hong Kong and had the power, if not the will, to actively make H. K. fully democratic!

    “Britain did not, right up to the handover of sovereignty to China in July 1997, allow Hong Kongers to elect the city’s “mayor”, known as governor, who remained a crown appointee of the U. K. right to the lowering of the Union Jack”.

    The attached article provides more information and history on the problems and opportunities for the Hong Kongers.

  • Robin Bennett 4th Dec '20 - 5:57pm

    Alistair is maintaining the best Lib Dem traditions of pressing for fundamental freedoms, no matter where in the world they are breached. Steve, thanks for the link.

    I despair at times. Older Hong Kongers seem just to want peace and quiet and were unnerved by the demonstrations. Most perplexing is that the Chinese I know from Malaysia and Hong Kong, despite being now settled for decades here, regard criticism of Xi Jin Ping as anti-Chinese. They point out that the greatest human right is to be taken out of poverty, which the present regime has achieved in spectacular fashion. HK is “part of China” and we Brits must not “interfere”

    One says it makes his blood boil listening to all the Western Countries keep hammering on about Human Rights when they have, as he puts it, mercilessly wiped out native Red Indians, the Aborigines, slaughtered millions of Black slaves, butchered millions of Vietnamese, bombed millions of Muslims.

    We can respond that these accusations are in part true, but that Hong Kongers are now losing rights they had before 1997. It’s tempting to draw parallels between the present Beijing regime and the early years of Nazi Germany. But nothing we say seems likely to move them.

  • Pamela Manning 5th Dec '20 - 12:17pm

    I agree that Lib Dems should be taking a stronger position on human rights abuses and as an Amnesty member I am aware of too many. I feel that we should therefore concentrate on those areas like Hong Kong where we have an historic duty. If we are to press for sanctions on Hong Kong we should also be pressing for sanctions against trade with the illegal settlements in Israel. On 3rd November, under cover of US election, the entire Bedouin village of Khirbet Humsa was destroyed leaving 73, including 41 children homeless. Demolitions enable further settlement expansion. Another Bedouin village Khan al Ahmar, saved in 2018 by international outrage is again under threat following a recent court judgement. These are blatant human rights abuses about which concern is expressed by governments but no action is taken.

  • Helen Dudden 6th Dec '20 - 12:34pm

    Human Rights in our own backyard, is now needed after this government has ignored every treatment other than Covid.
    It’s now being written that mouth cancer is being missed, because of lack of dental treatment.
    I’ve waited a year, I probably will need private treatment for 4 broken teeth. Finding an accessible dentist and going this week.
    We could also ask, about the many other’s with no diabetes checks and lack of cancer care. It’s all Covid.
    There should be questions, this government has a lot to answer for.
    A close down of specialist treatment is not an answer.

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