Thursday 8 April 2021 6:00 am

How many more pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong need to be arrested for Britain to step up?

Siobhain McDonagh MP is a member of the Treasury Select Committee

Last week, Hong Kong authorities sunk to a new low as they charged seven pro-democracy leaders for unlawful assembly. The time has come for Britain to stop standing idly by and demonstrate moral courage by standing unequivocally with Hong Kongers.

The charges, relating to a demonstration two years ago before tough new national security laws were brought in, are the latest in a string of power grabs from Beijing. Last month, 39 men and eight women were arrested for breaching the national security law. They stand accused of organising an unofficial ‘primary’ election to pick opposition candidates for the 2020 legislative elections, which were subsequently cancelled.  

The Hong Kong legislature played a key role in protecting the city’s autonomy; it protected and enacted Hong Kong’s distinct laws and acted as a legal buffer between Beijing and Hong Kong. It also consisted of pro-democracy representatives which reflected the wider popular support for a democratic future. This threatened Beijing’s aspirations to take over Hong Kong. Now, Hong Kong’s own legal system has been overwritten by the national security law and many pro-democracy politicians have either fled or been arrested. 

Make no mistake, these arrests were strategic. They send a clear message to the world that no Hongkonger is safe and that the Hong Kong authorities will stop at nothing to extinguish pro-democracy sparks across the region. 

Anyone charged under the national security law can face life imprisonment. Citizens can be arrested for the “crime” of being unpatriotic to Beijing. Despite these risks, Hongkongers persist in their fight for freedom. Thousands protested these abhorrent arrests in an act of solidarity that has inspired the world.  

In a stunning display of collective bravery, the people of Hong Kong flooded the streets of the city while chanting slogans including “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” and “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” during the first mass arrests and a smaller pool protested the latest charges. Yet, the UK has dragged its feet.

The Government must step up and match the collective bravery and unimaginable sacrifice of the people of Hong Kong with concrete and meaningful action. Our first step should be imposing Magnitsky-style sanctions onto senior officials responsible for this draconian mass arrests in Hong Kong. This is the least the government can do to show solidarity with Hong Kong and to take a stand that could have a demonstrable impact on the future of Hong Kong.  

We know that sanctions work to deter abuse, to hold abusers to account for their actions and to tackle the spread of totalitarianism. Chief Executive Carrie Lam recently complained that she had been forced to hoard cash in her apartment due to financial sanctions placed upon her. 

So why hasn’t the UK imposed sanctions onto officials in Hong Kong already? Such sanctions have already been imposed onto officials in Beijing. Hongkongers deserve justice too. We have been waiting on Dominic Raab to stick to his promises and impose these sanctions for months. Hongkongers cannot wait any longer. 

If the UK stays quiet any longer, we risk becoming complicit in the draconian takeover of Hong Kong. Those who have been charged and arrested cannot wait any longer. Their safety is in immediate jeopardy. How many more arrests will it take? How much more abuse will Hong Kong be forced to suffer before the UK does what is right and necessary? We must act now before it is too late.  

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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