7 August 2020

Hong Kong Police’s complicity with repression must not go unpunished

By Chris Whitehouse

Carrie Lam, the Chinese Communist Party quisling who serves as Chief Executive of Hong Kong, was recently singled out for criticism by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong. The MPs and peers rightly called for her to be personally subject to Magnitsky-style sanctions due to her role in trampling on the human rights of protestors, and, particularly, humanitarian aid workers by the now internationally shamed police force of that city.

The call came in a hard-hitting report into police behaviour and violence during the pro-democracy protests that saw millions of Hongkongers take to the streets in defence of human rights, freedom of speech and freedom of association.

The Hong Kong police responded with extreme brutality, firing teargas canisters directly at protestors, shooting them at close range, gassing bystanders, turning water cannon on people armed only with umbrellas, using motor vehicles as weapons, and arresting, detaining and torturing protestors, some of whom were wounded and denied medical treatment.

The All-Party Group took over 1,000 submissions of evidence and conducted oral hearings, aware that since the imposition by the Chinese Communist Party of the National Security Law on Hong Kong in July, those witnesses could be arrested and face trial in China – where over 98% of cases, show-trials as they often are, end in convictions – resulting in possible life imprisonment.

That witnesses from Hong Kong could face such repercussions just for recounting their brutal treatment by police and to an inquiry here in London, is truly shocking. What is more concerning still is that so too could the British parliamentarians who conducted the inquiry, given that the China-imposed National Security Law contains provision for extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Dominic Raab was absolutely right to protect residents of this country from this fate and to suspend the extradition treaty with Hong Kong – that was the inevitable consequence of the Chinese Communist Party bringing in global legislation intended to constrain free speech abroad, to limit academic comment, and to silence political opponents.

The Foreign Secretary also banned exports of the crowd control equipment which was so abused by Hong Kong police in their response to protests that had been peaceful until the police’s tactics inflamed passions.

It is not just Carrie Lam who is in the committee’s sights, though. Their report also suggests that senior police officers responsible for a shift from policing by consent to a violent, repressive police state, should be identified and sanctioned. The real stain upon our nation’s global reputation is that many of these senior officers are full British citizens, who trained and served with police forces in the UK before moving overseas. They should know better. They have betrayed their homeland and their former police colleagues.

We should also warmly applaud the Government’s unprecedented and generous offer to introduce a route to full British citizenship not only for the 350,000 British National (Overseas) passport holders, but also for the up to 2.9 million (and their young dependents) who qualify for that status. Plucky Great (but little!) Britain stood up to the world’s biggest communist bully, and clearly put its moral and historical obligations before its short-term interests.

That was a moment of which our party and our nation can and should be proud, not frit. We certainly should not heed the overblown scaremongering of Lord Andrew Green and MigrationWatch – they truly inhabit Alice’s Wonderland if they believe for one minute that China will ever allow 3 million of its citizens to leave. Indeed, China is already warning that it may derecognise BN(O) passports as valid travel documents, demonstrating once more its disdain for the rule of international law.

But, the parliamentary group’s report argues, there are two points out for which the Home and Foreign Secretaries need to watch with the otherwise welcome BN(O) lifeboat scheme.

First, trumped up and disproportionate criminal charges for which pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong are now being tried and convicted, and which might otherwise be a hurdle to entry to the United Kingdom, should not count against them if they attempt to use this route to safety.

Second, members of the now disgraced Hong Kong Police Force, complicit in the stamping down of the iron heel of communism on the throats of freedom protestors, should be held accountable for their action; not only with sanctions, but also through criminal prosecutions in British and international law for what they have done, and for what they have failed to do. They should be denied the benefits of a seat in the BN(O) lifeboat and forced instead to see out the rest of their lives under the same repressive regime they have helped impose on Hong Kong. That would be a fitting outcome.

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Chris Whitehouse leads the team at his public affairs agency, The Whitehouse Consultancy, which provides the secretariat to the Hong Kong Group in parliament.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.