Hong Kong protesters win in court of public opinion — but need our legal defense
BY KATRINA LANTOS SWETT, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR — 09/05/19 11:00 AM EDT
This week’s announcement that Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam will formally and fully withdraw the dangerous Chinese extradition bill that sparked democracy protests is an enormous victory for the courageous, determined people of Hong Kong. The law would have allowed China to extradite people from Hong Kong to face kangaroo courts in an utterly corrupt legal system. It was a dangerous new gambit in China’s plan to gradually strangle the freedom and unique vibrancy of this extraordinary place.
Hong Kongers recognized early on that the bill posed an existential threat to any semblance of independence and freedom. Over the past three months, they have taken to the streets in unprecedented numbers to defend their city and their rights. The government’s decision to withdraw the bill is inspiring evidence that even an oppressive, authoritarian behemoth such as China cannot ignore the voices of millions of resolute and brave citizens. This victory is enormously significant — but it is not the end of the story.
The overwhelming majority of the protesters have been peaceful, but the response of the police and the mainland gangs who have attacked them has not been. Since June, thousands of protestors have been injured and over 1,100 people have been detained. Those arrested for peacefully protesting have been charged with offenses that could put them in jail for many years. But these charges are only a flimsy cover; their true crime in the eyes of Communist China is inspiring fellow Hong Kongers to take to the streets in defense of freedom and the rule of law.
None of us knows what will happen next as this fight for the future of Hong Kong unfolds, but the world’s attention will remain fixed on this small but extraordinarily vibrant outpost. It is vital that the U.S. government speak with one voice in urging Lam and her Chinese overlords to work with this citizens’ power movement to meet their reasonable demands for an independent inquiry into police violence. Those leaders also should immediately drop spurious legal charges against those who have not engaged in violence.
The world may watching Hong Kong, but history also will take a snapshot of those of us enjoying our own freedom and democracy. In 2018, the Lantos Foundation was proud to give our highest award, the Lantos Prize, to perhaps the most high-profile and charismatic of the democracy movement’s leaders, Joshua Wong, the secretary-general and co-founder of Demosisto, a political party in Hong Kong. He was among activists arrested late last month.
While recognizing such leadership is important, we believe that those of us who live in freedom owe these brave democracy crusaders more than just our words of support. We must equip them to defend themselves against the crushing apparatus of the Chinese communist state. For that reason, we have established a legal defense fund to support Joshua Wong and his compatriots as they defend themselves against false accusations that could land them in prison for years to come.
We encourage everyone who stands with the people of Hong Kong to match their words and good wishes with the resources to help defend those who are on the front lines of this fight for freedom.
Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett serves as president and CEO of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice. She has taught at Tufts University and the University of Southern Denmark, served as director of the graduate program in public policy at New England College, and worked for then-Sen. Joe Biden as deputy counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Follow her on Twitter @LantosSwettK and @LantosFndn.