Hong Kong protesters optimistic on US rights legislation

Joshua Wong, leader of the ‘Umbrella Movement’ and Denise Ho, pro-Democracy activist, testify before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China about the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong in Washington September 17, 2019. — AFP pic
Joshua Wong, leader of the ‘Umbrella Movement’ and Denise Ho, pro-Democracy activist, testify before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China about the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong in Washington September 17, 2019. — AFP pic

WASHINGTON, Sept 23 — Prominent Hong Kong protesters expressed optimism Saturday that US legislators will pass by year’s end a bill aimed at defending civil rights in the global financial hub roiled by pro-democracy demonstrations and accusations of police abuse.

The activists testified on Tuesday at a congressional hearing that examined the legislation. 

The bill, which enjoys wide support in Congress, would end Hong Kong’s special trading status with the United States unless the State Department certifies annually that city authorities are respecting human rights and rule of law.

“We are optimistic that the bill can pass within this year,” Joshua Wong, one of the most recognisable faces in the leaderless protest movement, told AFP in an interview.

Millions have taken to the streets of Hong Kong, initially against a now-dropped bid by its leaders to allow extraditions to the authoritarian Chinese mainland. 

The months-long movement has expanded into a broader pro-democracy push in the semi-autonomous territory where activists say freedoms are being eroded by Beijing. They also accuse police of brutality.

Wong, 22, said there is “new bipartisan consensus” in Congress towards China and Hong Kong. More than 50 US lawmakers are co-sponsors of the bill, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, he said.

“Hopefully this bill will get passed very soon within these one or two months,” Hong Kong pop star and activist Denise Ho, 42, who testified alongside Wong in Congress, told AFP in the interview.

“I hope that other governments would follow.”

A related piece of legislation under consideration would ban the sale of tear gas, rubber bullets and other crowd control equipment to the Hong Kong police which Ho described as “out of control” in their response towards demonstrators.

“This trip in DC was very fruitful. We have seen a lot of support from the Congress,” said Ho, whose music has been banned in mainland China for her activism.

“So I do feel that is a very powerful encouragement to the Hong Kong people.”

The activists later unfurled a banner outside the US Capitol bearing more than 2,000 signatures in support of the bill.

Ho, Wong and other activists have also visited Germany, Taiwan and Australia to raise awareness.

Their US visit added to Beijing’s accusations that “external forces” are behind the unrest. 

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Thursday that the US should “stop supporting violent radical forces and Hong Kong independence separatists, and stop adding fuel to the fire.”

Beijing summoned Germany’s ambassador after Wong visited Berlin and met Foreign Minister Heiko Maas earlier this month.

Wong said that in Washington the activists met an assistant secretary of state to whom they emphasised the importance of the legislation. — AFP

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