Benedict Rogers: It’s time for the UK to stand up to China over Hong Kong

It is time now for Britain to stand up for Hong Kong. Every six months the Foreign Secretary publishes a report on the situation, and recent reports have become noticeably more robust. But as parliament’s human rights committee has noted, these reports are not enough. It is time to get tough.

The Umbrella Movement leaders outside West Kowloon Magistrates Court in Hong Kong.

The Umbrella Movement leaders outside West Kowloon Magistrates Court in Hong Kong.

Today’s conviction of nine leaders of the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement on charges including ‘incitement to public nuisance’, ‘incitement to incite public nuisance’ and ‘conspiracy to public nuisance’ is, in itself, one of the biggest public nuisances in Hong Kong in recent years. And the verdict is yet another hammer blow to Hong Kong’s rapidly eroding freedoms.

The nine convicted leaders include three of the most prominent activists and figureheads of the Umbrella Movement: law professor Benny Tai, sociology professor Chan Kin-man and Baptist pastor Chu Yiu-ming. They could face up to seven years in jail.

Human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Hong Kong Watch, and members of the US Congress and the German Bundestag have condemned the verdict, and Hong Kong’s last colonial Governor, Lord Patten, described it as ‘appallingly divisive’ and ‘vengeful’.

The Umbrella Movement protests in 2014, which continued for 79 days, were one of the most peaceful and orderly demonstrations anywhere in the world. Sparked by Beijing’s refusal to introduce full universal suffrage in Hong Kong, the Umbrella Movement began with a campaign called ‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace’, initiated by Tai, Chan and Reverend Chu. It then evolved into a wider movement that took its name from the yellow umbrellas that protestors used.

The conviction of the nine protest leaders is part of the Chinese regime’s campaign of ‘lawfare’ against the pro-democracy movement, using archaic laws left over from the colonial era. Activists such as Edward Leung have been jailed under the ambiguously worded Public Order Ordinance (POO), which punishes ‘unlawful assembly’.

But the jailing of peaceful protestors is by no means the only example of the erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms. Over the past five years we have seen Hong Kong booksellers who published titles critical of China’s rulers abducted. We have seen a political party banned, and a senior Financial Times journalist, Victor Mallet, expelled from the city. I myself was refused entry to Hong Kong in October 2017, which drew international attention, was raised in parliament and condemned by the then-Foreign Secretary. Since then I have received at least eight anonymous, threatening letters, postmarked from Hong Kong, sent to my neighbours in suburban London, my mother and my employers.

Benedict Rogers is founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch. Read the full article on The Spectator.

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