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Benedict Rogers

I won't give in to Beijing's bullies

The extraterritorial application of Hong Kong's draconian national security law is now a serious threat to our freedoms
Published: March 16, 2022 06:08 AM GMT

Updated: March 16, 2022 06:08 AM GMT

I won't give in to Beijing's bullies

Hong Kong Watch founder Benedict Rogers (right) speaks to the media via video during a press conference by the Hong Kong Universal Periodic Review Coalition on April 10, 2018. (Photo: AFP)

When I left Hong Kong 20 years ago, I felt confident of the city’s future and my own. I left believing, by and large, that “one country, two systems” was still intact, that it was working, and that even with some concerning early warning signs of erosion, basically Hong Kong remained one of the most open and free cities in Asia.

I had begun my career as a journalist and an activist in Hong Kong, writing critically of the regime and, in my spare time, speaking out for human rights elsewhere in Asia. Hong Kong was a regional hub for the media and activism.

I never imagined at that time that the day would come when I would be advocating for Hong Kong’s freedoms, protesting against repression. And I certainly did not anticipate that 15 years later I would be denied entry to Hong Kong and deported, and that 20 years on I would be threatened with criminal charges. Yet that is what has happened.

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Almost exactly a month ago, the website of the organization I co-founded in 2017 — Hong Kong Watch — was banned in Hong Kong. It was sudden, we had no warning and we were not informed why.

Then, just under a week ago, I woke up one morning and opened my email inbox to find first a letter from the Hong Kong police, and then a few hours later an email from the Hong Kong National Security Bureau, telling me that Hong Kong Watch’s website poses a threat to China’s national security, that as the co-founder of the organization I was required to remove it within 72 hours of receipt of the correspondence, and that failure to comply could result in a fine of HK$100,000 (almost US$13,000) and between one year and life imprisonment. Initially, I wondered whether I had actually woken up or whether I was still asleep and experiencing a nightmare.

Since March 10, friends and allies have mobilized with speed, agility and strength. The BBC and The Times broke the story together, and I spent Monday and part of Tuesday doing non-stop media interviews across the globe. Many media outlets around the world have covered the story. Several parliamentarians in the UK, including some of our patrons, have issued statements of support, as have our US and Canadian patrons.

“Attempting to silence voices globally that speak up for freedom and democracy is unacceptable and will never succeed”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss issued a robust statement on Monday morning, which is enormously welcome. “Attempting to silence voices globally that speak up for freedom and democracy is unacceptable and will never succeed,” she said. I salute her for that.

The question is what happens next. This is what must happen next.

First, we must recognise that the extraterritorial application of Hong Kong’s absurdly draconian national security law is now a real, direct and serious threat to our freedoms.

If the Chinese Communist Party regime is prepared to threaten a British activist and a British-based organization, accusing us of “collusion” with foreign political forces, even though we ourselves are a foreign entity with no presence whatsoever in Hong Kong, they will not stop there.

Hong Kong Watch is their first target, but as they have shown in their war against civil society, democratic opposition and an independent media in Hong Kong, the regime never goes after one individual or organization alone.

It is very likely other overseas groups will soon be in their sights. Governments around the world must be aware of this, and those that believe in democracy and freedom of expression must be prepared to defend them for their own citizens as well as for Hong Kongers.

Second, we must respond not just in words but with action. It’s time to withdraw British and other Commonwealth judges from Hong Kong’s increasingly compromised judicial system. The non-permanent judges from Britain, Australia and Canada should now withdraw, and do so in unison. After all, if I was forcibly extradited to Hong Kong, would I want to appear before a foreign judge who legitimized my captors?

And third, the time has come — indeed it is long overdue — for Beijing and its quislings in Hong Kong to face consequences for dismantling the territory’s freedoms. That means sanctions.

"The fight between freedom and autocracy is not only on the battlefields of Ukraine. It is in cyberspace and increasingly on our doorsteps everywhere"

In advocating sanctions, I know that I am again violating the national security law, but if those responsible for destroying Hong Kong’s liberties, autonomy and rule of law are allowed to get away with what they have done with impunity, not only will they be emboldened to further intensify their repression at home but they will also be encouraged to extend their aggression abroad, whether that’s against Taiwan and in the South China Sea or against individual critics in the free world like me.

I am safe at home in London and, realistically, unless I set foot in Hong Kong or in a country that has an extradition agreement with Hong Kong, there is little that Beijing can do except threaten, intimidate and harass me, which they have been doing for the past five years.

And they will not succeed, because I will not be silenced and nor will Hong Kong Watch. Indeed, we will redouble our efforts as Hong Kong needs our voices now more than ever. The irony is that the regime that barred me from visiting Hong Kong now threatens to jail me in Hong Kong. How can they do that if they don’t let me in? And I know that if they did, they then would not let me out.

The fight between freedom and autocracy is not only on the battlefields of Ukraine. It is in cyberspace and increasingly on our doorsteps everywhere. If we believe in freedom, we must engage in that fight, refuse to be intimidated, stare down the dictators and send them a clear, unambiguous message: bullies and tyrants will not win.

* Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and writer. He is the co-founder and chief executive of Hong Kong Watch, senior analyst for East Asia at the international human rights organisation CSW, co-founder and deputy chair of the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, a member of the advisory group of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and a board member of the Stop Uyghur Genocide Campaign. He is the author of six books, including three books about Myanmar, including his latest, “Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads”. His faith journey is told in his book “From Burma to Rome: A Journey into the Catholic Church” (Gracewing, 2015). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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