Jailed Hong Kong student democracy leader Joshua Wong and two fellow activists were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize this week by a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers, who hailed their courage, leadership and commitment to protecting freedoms in the former British colony.
Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, who spearheaded the 2014 Umbrella Movement, were nominated for the 2018 prize in a letter to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, signed by 12 politicians, led by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Representative Christopher Smith of New Jersey.
Rubio and Smith are chair and co-chair, respectively, of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, a bipartisan advisory body that focuses on human rights and rule of law issues.
“While the democracy movement in Hong Kong faces tremendous opposition from the Chinese Communist Party and the Hong Kong government, these young leaders have continued their fight to improve the welfare of Hong Kong,” wrote the lawmakers.
“Through their respective leadership roles, Wong, Law, Chow, along with other pro-democracy politicians and supporters who took part in the largest pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong’s history, demonstrated civic courage, extraordinary leadership, and an unwavering commitment to a free and prosperous Hong Kong that upholds the rule of law, political freedoms and human rights,” said the letter to the committee.
The nomination letter came two weeks after a court in Hong Kong sent Wong back to jail after finding him guilty of contempt of court at a trial last October.
Wong, who was out on bail on public order charges linked to a separate 2014 incident, had earlier said he was ready to go back to jail.
"They can lock up our bodies, but they can't lock up our minds,” he told reporters before the sentencing hearing. “Even though we now face a prison sentence, we'll do so without fear.”
“This nomination could not be more timely as Hong Kong’s long-cherished autonomy continues to erode, and Umbrella Movement leaders face reprisals simply for espousing basic human rights and freedoms,” said Rubio in a statement accompanying the nomination letter.
Law, who helped found the party Demosisto, won a seat in LegCo and then had it stripped when his oath of allegiance was found invalid by a Hong Kong court. In August 2017, Law was imprisoned for eight months and former student leader Chow for seven months by the city's Court of Appeal.
“They have shown great courage in the face of harassment, threats, detention, and legal and financial repercussions. In their writings, speeches and political activism they have boldly challenged the central government’s steady erosion of the ‘one country, two systems’ model,” the lawmakers’ letter said.
Hong Kong was promised a “high degree of autonomy” under the terms of its 1997 handover from Britain to China, but many say the city’s traditional freedoms are now a thing of the past, as Beijing seeks to wield ever greater influence over the city’s media, publishing, and political scene.
Leaders of the 79-day Umbrella Movement civil disobedience movement rejected an Aug. 31, 2014 decree from China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), which required the vetting of candidates for the city's top job by a pro-Beijing committee, as "fake universal suffrage."
The Nobel nomination is expected to anger Beijing, which rejects criticism of its handling of Hong Kong and which appears to have special animus for the Nobel committee, which awarded political prisoner Liu Xiaobo the Peace Prize in 2010.
China responded with trade sanctions and other diplomatic snubs of Norway, and Liu died in jail last July.
“How fitting would it be for Hong Kong’s champions of freedom to receive the peace prize a year after the death of Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo,” Smith said in a statement accompanying the letter.
“It would be both a fitting tribute and a reminder that the struggle for democracy and rights are not alien to the people of mainland China, but an indelible part of their great history and culture—and an important part of their future.”