Hong Kong student leader and pro-democracy politician Joshua Wong has been awarded a major human rights award in Washington, although an effective travel ban meant he was unable to accept it in person.
Former Hong Kong lawmaker and student protest leader Nathan Law accepted the 2018 Lantos Human Rights Prize on Wednesday evening on Wong's behalf, as Wong hit out at the "dire situation" facing the city in the wake of the 2014 Umbrella Movement for fully democratic elections.
"The Lantos Human Rights Prize is intended to serve as a beacon of hope, justice and human decency in a world too often covered in a shroud of darkness," Wong wrote in The Washington Post.
"Yet I can’t help but feel that Lantos would be saddened to see the dire situation facing Hong Kong ... in the face of China’s efforts to increase its authoritarian control within its sphere of influence," the article said.
"Beijing is actively deploying its sharp power against Hong Kong," Wong warned. "All this constitutes a grave threat to our democracy."
Wong cited the removal from office in recent years of democratically elected lawmakers including Law, with whom he cofounded the political party Demosisto, while fellow activists had been barred from running in elections at all based on their political views.
"Political prosecutions against protesters have become the new norm," he said, citing a six-year jail term recently handed down to fellow activist Edward Leung.
Law, who traveled with former student leader and debarred election candidate Agnes Chow, said he had met with various members of the House of Representatives to talk about the proposed Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.
"The bill can give the United States more choices and flexibility when thinking about its Hong Kong policy," Law said. "For example, officials who are responsible for eroding Hong Kong's democratic human rights and autonomy would have their U.S. assets frozen, or be unable to enter the country."
He said he was confident that the bill, proposed by Congressmen Chris Smith and Marco Rubio, would win widespread public support among pan-democrats back home.
"The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act that is being actively pursued by Demosisto will target human rights and democracy in particular," Law said. "It is more likely to win the broad support of pan-democrats."
Sentenced for ‘contempt of court’
Wong began serving a six-month jail term for his part in the storming of police barriers outside government headquarters on Sept. 26, 2014, at the start of the Umbrella Movement.
He was acquitted alongside fellow defendants Nathan Law and Alex Chow by Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal in February, but was also handed a three-month sentence for "contempt of court," for trying to block the police clearance of an Occupy protest site in Mong Kok at the tail-end of the Umbrella Movement, which gained its nickname from the use of umbrellas by peaceful protesters to ward off pepper spray and tear-gas attacks by riot police.
Wong was released on bail in January, but his passport was confiscated. The city's High Court denied his request to ease his bail conditions pending a hearing in the "contempt of court" case scheduled for April next year, putting him under an effective travel ban.
The Lantos Human Rights Prize is an annual award aimed at raising global awareness of human rights violations around the world, and to support individuals committed to fighting against them.
Previous recipients have included Hillary Clinton, Chen Guangcheng, Elie Wiesel, and the Dalai Lama.
Reported by Fok Leung-kiu for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.