Hong Kong criticizes U.S. bill to rename street in honor of imprisoned human rights defender — By: Catholic News Agency

Jimmy Lai at a Hong Kong protest / Courtesy of the Acton Institute

CNA Staff, Apr 30, 2024 / 18:10 pm (CNA).

An unnamed Hong Kong government spokesperson criticized a bill proposed by two U.S. congressmen that would rename the address of the Hong Kong Economic Trade Office in Washington, D.C. “Jimmy Lai Way,” honoring a 75-year-old democracy advocate who has been incarcerated in Hong Kong since 2020.

The spokesperson called on the U.S. to  “stop maliciously interfering” in Hong Kong affairs, according to a Tuesday report by the Hong Kong Free Press.

Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Tom Suozzi (D-NY) proposed the bill last week.

Jimmy Lai, a pro-democracy businessman and convert to Catholicism, was arrested on several charges under the controversial national security law, which was passed by China’s communist-controlled government in 2020. His newspaper, Apple Daily, published pro-democracy content and was often critical of the Chinese Communist Party. 

Rep. Chris Smith chaired a hearing on May 11, 2023, entitled “One City, Two Legal Systems: Political Prisoners & the Erosion of Rule of Law in Hong Kong.”. Courtesy of the office of Rep. Chris Smith

Although the Chinese government charged Lai with colluding with foreign forces, critics of the prosecution claim that he — and hundreds of other political and religious dissidents — were arrested for their human rights activism. 

“Jimmy Lai — a courageous man of deep faith who stands for democracy, human rights and respect for the rule of law — exemplifies moral principle and defiance in the face of tyranny,” Smith said in a statement to CNA. 

“The United States must make it absolutely clear that we stand with him and all other political prisoners in Hong Kong,” he continued. “Until we close it for good, the Hong Kong Economic Trade Office should have a new address that rightfully recognizes this champion of freedom.”

The spokesperson for the Hong Kong government quoted in the Hong Kong Free Press requested that the U.S. “respect the basic norms governing international relations and stop maliciously interfering in the affairs of the HKSAR.”

“The HKSAR Government must emphasize that all cases are handled strictly on the basis of evidence and in accordance with the law,” the spokesman said.  “All defendants will receive fair trial strictly in accordance with laws applicable to Hong Kong (including the Hong Kong National Security Law and the Safeguarding National Security Ordinance) and as protected by the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights.”

After Lai’s arrest, the Hong Kong government closed the Apple Daily in June 2021, arresting top staff members and encouraging others to resign. Authorities forcibly removed Lai’s Next Media company from the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Lai, who could face life in prison, pleaded not guilty in January to conspiring to collude with a foreign power.

Authorities throughout the world have called for Lai’s freedom. The Congressional Executive Commission on China urged the U.S. government last year to sanction Hong Kong prosecutors and judges if they fail to release Lai.

“The free world must continue calling attention to the Chinese Communist Party’s crimes in Xinjiang, erosion of democracy in Hong Kong, and saber-rattling against Taiwan,” Souzzi said in the April 25 statement.

Sebastien Lai, son of political prisoner Jimmy Lai, testified at a hearing on May 11, 2023, headed by Rep. Chris Smith. Courtesy of the office of Rep. Chris Smith

Smith has advocated for Lai since his arrest, nominating him for the 2024 Nobel Peace Prize. As Chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Smith chaired a congressional hearing last year with testimony by Jimmy Lai’s son, Sebastien Lai. 

“Jimmy Lai is a man of faith and conviction, someone who fervently believed that Hong Kong’s prosperity and vitality were built on the rights promised to its citizens,” Smith said. “For peacefully acting on this belief, he is arbitrarily detained.”

“[Jimmy Lai Way] will signal to the entire world that the United States stands in solidarity with those who oppose the tyranny and repression of the Chinese government,” Souzzi added.

For as long as the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office continues to operate in Washington DC, their new address will symbolize that this champion of freedom stands against their growing authoritarianism and human rights abuses,” Smith continued in the statement.

“We will continue to press for Jimmy Lai’s unconditional release and seek ways to raise the diplomatic and reputational costs globally for the Hong Kong government and their Chinese Communist Party masters for their rough dismantling of democratic freedoms and the rule of law in Hong Kong,” said Smith.

Smith has also authored legislation to (HR 1103) that would require the U.S. Secretary of State to determine if the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices in the United States merit the privileges and immunities granted to them by the International Organizations Immunities Act

Both HR 1103 and its companion bill in the Senate (S 490) have been passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and are awaiting final consideration by both chambers.

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