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U.S. Condemns China’s Attempts To Silence Hong Kong Protestors

April 21, 2021 by Daniel Mollenkamp
Pro-democracy activist Lee Cheuk-yan, gestures before his sentencing at a court in Hong Kong Friday, April 16, 2021. A Hong Kong court on Friday sentenced five leading pro-democracy advocates, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai, to up to 18 months in prison for organizing a march during the 2019 anti-government protests that triggered an overwhelming crackdown from Beijing. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

The U.S. has condemned the sentencing of protesters in Hong Kong, which it says was a violation of their rights under international agreements and an indefensible attempt to silence dissent by the Chinese government. 

Last week, Chinese authorities sentenced seven protesters in Hong Kong: Martin Lee, Jimmy Lai, Albert Ho, Margaret Ng, Cyd Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan, and Leung Kwok-hung. The protestors were elderly, with the oldest being 82, and they were former lawmakers, lawyers, and other advocates for self-rule in Hong Kong.

They had joined in two protests in August of 2019. The U.S. Department of State says that 1.7 million people participated in the rallies.

More than ten-thousand people have been arrested for protests in favor of democratic reform in Hong Kong, most of whom have not yet been sentenced, as NPR has reported.  

Two other protestors, Joshua Wong and Sze-yiu Koo, were sentenced on April 13th. 

The most famous arrest was septuagenarian media mogul Jimmy Lai, who is facing several other charges, including a charge under the new National Security Law that critics say criminalizes dissent, and who was sentenced to 14 months for his part in the protests, BBC reported. 

A handwritten letter from Lai, published last week by Apple Daily, the Hong Kong publication Lai founded, expressed the stoic sentiments of the protestors, according to press reports.

“Hong Kong’s situation is increasingly chilling, but precisely because of that, we need to love and cherish ourselves more,” Lai’s letter said, “The era is falling apart before us and it is time for us to stand tall and keep our heads high.”

A written statement from the U.S. Department of State, responding to the most recent sentences, described them as “pro-democracy leaders,” emphasizing the peaceful nature of the protest and the indefensible nature of the arrests. That statement claims that the arrests violate Hong Kong Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration, and that it further shows an “effort to eliminate all forms of dissent.” 

Hong Kong Basic Law has been in effect since 1997 when British rule in  the region was handed to the Chinese National Party. It codifies the “one country, two systems” approach, offering some degree of self-rule to the people in Hong Kong, including provisions for freedom of speech and assembly. The Sino-British Joint Declaration is an international compact between Hong Kong, the UK, and China, signed in Beijing in 1984. It provides for limited autonomy for Hong Kong as well.

“We will continue to stand with Hong Kongers as they respond to Beijing’s assault on these freedoms and autonomy, and we will not stop calling for the release of those detained or imprisoned for exercising their fundamental freedoms,” U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said.

The European Union also condemned the imprisonments, echoing the comment that the sentencing was a violation of international agreements. 

“The lengthy imprisonment of some of the individuals for non-violent acts when exercising protected civic rights is a further sign of the continued diminution of the democratic space and erosion of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong,” a written comment from a spokesperson for the EU said.

Protests in Hong Kong have captured the attention of western press since 2019, particularly as tensions between China and the west have risen. Critics of the Chinese government are particularly concerned with the government’s human rights record, highlighting the attempt to crush dissent in Hong Kong and the repression of Uighurs in the Xinjiang province.

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