US lawmakers urge sanctions on Hong Kong justice officials

The bipartisan group wants the White House to sanction 49 officials from top judges to the justice secretary.
By Alex Willemyns for RFA
2023.11.02
Washington
US lawmakers urge sanctions on Hong Kong justice officials Hong Kong Justice Secretary Paul Lam Ting-kwok is one of 49 officials who would be sanctioned under the legislation.
Tyrone Siu/Reuters file photo

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has introduced legislation calling on the Biden administration to impose sanctions on 49 top Hong Kong justice officials and judges for whittling away basic rights. 

Hong Kong is in its third year of a crackdown on freedoms of speech, assembly and the press as Beijing imposes its will on the former British colony, which was meant to remain self-governing for 50 years under the terms of the 1997 handover from the United Kingdom.

Using the 2020 National Security Law, Hong Kong authorities have prosecuted hundreds of people for loosely defined crimes including secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces, and there are plans to introduce even more oppressive security laws next year.

Introduced Wednesday, the Hong Kong Sanctions Act, if passed, would give the White House six months to evaluate the officials under the Global Magnitsky and Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy acts, and to provide explanations if they decline to impose sanctions.

The officials include Justice Secretary Paul Lam Ting-kwok, national security chief Sonny Au Chi-kwong, Police Commissioner Raymond Siu Chak-yee, chief magistrate Victor So Wai-tak and national security judges Esther Toh Lye-ping and Amanda Jane Woodcock.

All have been at the forefront of enforcing the National Security Law.

‘We will not tolerate this’

The bill is backed by Rep. Young Kim, a Republican from California, Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts and Rep. John Curtis, a Republican from Utah, and Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon and Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska.

Merkley, who is also the co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, told Radio Free Asia that the bill is meant to send a message to the Chinese government that the United States does not accept the further erosion of rights in Hong Kong.

“As Chinese and Hong Kong officials continue to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy, freedoms, and the human rights of its people, the U.S. must continue to send a clear message to the Chinese government that we will not tolerate this,” Merkley said. 

“We will continue to speak and act in defense of the Hong Kong people against the oppression of an authoritarian system,” he said. “That includes imposing sanctions against [Chinese] and Hong Kong officials for their brazen disregard of their commitments to the people of Hong Kong as well as their obligations under treaties.”

APEC snub

Ties between Washington and Hong Kong have deteriorated since the 2020 crackdown, with the United States offering visa exemptions for Hong Kongers who escaped to America due to repression.

The United States also reportedly barred Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee – who last month called for the remaining “undercurrents” of dissent to be wiped out – from attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco later this month.

That is despite demands from Beijing that Lee be allowed to attend the summit, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning saying in July that as the APEC host country “has a responsibility and obligation to allow all member representatives to attend the meeting smoothly.”

Hong Kong, for its part, has insisted that its leader was invited to San Francisco in the end, but chose not to attend due to a full calendar.

“Due to scheduling issues, the Chief Executive would not be able to attend the meeting to represent Hong Kong, China in person, and has appointed the Financial Secretary, Mr Paul Chan, to attend the meeting on behalf of the Chief Executive,” it said in a statement.

Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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