Since Hong Kong's return to China in 1997, after a century of British rule, the Chinese Communist Party has always had the authority to intervene in the semiautonomous city. This summer that authority has been exercised with utter ruthlessness.
Historians will mark it as the season when free speech officially died in Hong Kong.
On June 30, Beijing imposed a national security law that gives the CCP the power to intervene in Hong Kong's criminal cases, superseding existing local legislation. The new restrictions, written and signed into law without input from the residents of Hong Kong, compromise the only common-law jurisdiction in China, and effectively smother the freedoms of speech and assembly that have made the city unique.
In a display of how far China's new security law will go to crush dissent, four students -- the youngest only 16 -- were detained July 30 for advocating Hong Kong's independence on social media. The next day, 12 pro-democracy candidates were disqualified from running for local council seats in what amounted to a political purge. The planned council elections, in which there were expectations of losses for Beijing-backed candidates, were delayed until next September citing coronavirus as a pretext to silence opposition.
Hong Kong's interminable summer has also seen democracy-themed books removed from public libraries; the banning of students from singing songs that the CCP deems "political"; and the firing of a prominent law professor and democracy activist from his university post. The most recent blow came Monday, when Jimmy Lai, publisher of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and frequent critic of Beijing, was arrested on charges of "sedition, criminal fraud, and collusion." This is the CCP's way of saying Lai spoke too many truths. Under the new security law, the 71-year-old could spend the rest of his life in prison.
This is how Beijing dismantles a pro-democracy movement that has been gaining momentum for nearly a decade.
Fortunately, the United States has not remained silent. Seeking to uphold the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which guarantees that expression and assembly are protected in Hong Kong, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill that would sanction Chinese officials who undermine Hong Kong's autonomy. Another bipartisan effort was launched to give refugee status to Hong Kong residents who suffer persecution. Moreover, both the State and Treasury departments have announced sanctions and visa restrictions targeting Chinese officials who impugn human rights and freedoms.
The day after Lai's arrest, Apple Daily produced over 500,000 copies of the paper, a 600% increase from its daily circulation; online subscriptions are also reportedly up 20,000 for the week.
Polls show that pro-democracy Hong Kongers are in the majority. These men and women are standing by the paper as it vows to "fight on" for media freedom in Hong Kong. America should be standing by it as well.
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