Local professional groups and student unions have urged US politicians to pass a draft law on Hong Kong’s human rights and democracy as soon as possible.
Twenty-two pro-democracy professional bodies, including groups of lawyers, scholars, doctors, engineers, finance and IT sector workers, sent a joint submission to all US representatives and senators calling on them to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 before the 116th Congress is set to end its term in 2021.
Student unions at 11 universities also issued a joint statement urging US politicians to do the same.
The bill is a new version of a previously submitted bill which, if passed, will impose penalties upon Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials who suppress basic freedoms in Hong Kong. It means their US-based assets will potentially be frozen and they will be denied entry into the US.
“[W]e consider that the Bill will be a powerful tool to protect the national interests of U.S. within Hong Kong as well as safeguarding the autonomy, human rights and democratic development as guaranteed to the people of Hong Kong by the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law,” the professional groups wrote.
“We therefore respectfully urge you to act quickly to pass the Bill within the 116th Congress, so that it can be signed into law as soon as possible.”
The professional groups made several suggestions for amending and expanding the scope of the bill.
Peaceful protesters who were arrested during the 2014 Umbrella Movement could be able to obtain US visas if the law passes. But the groups suggested that all peaceful protesters in recent protests – including those who partook in the July 1 storming of the Legislative Council – could be given access to visas.
They also suggested including a new section to punish anyone who passes bills in the Hong Kong legislature which erode the city’s autonomy or citizens’ rights.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 will require the US secretary of state to assess Hong Kong’s autonomy annually to justify the special treatment afforded to the city, under the US-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992.
The special treatment the city receives in terms of trade, which differentiates it from the mainland, could be suspended if the US president determines that Hong Kong is not sufficiently autonomous.
Student unions said in their joint statement that although the US government can impose sanctions stated in the existing US-Hong Kong Policy Act, the sanctions would not be target specific individuals, but everyone within the territory.
“This further proves the necessity of passing the Bill to target individuals betraying Hong Kong, and to protect the innocent, be they Hongkongers or Americans,” they said.
Their statements came after a letter campaign aimed at top US politicians asked them to co-sponsor the bill. As of Tuesday, 541 letters had been sent out.