A US draft law to punish those deemed responsible for suppressing freedoms in Hong Kong has received approval from two congressional committees of both the House and the Senate. Significant changes were made to strengthen the bill, a student lobbying group leader has said.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 was passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday. The next step would be for the bill to be discussed in the main chambers of the House and the Senate.

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A march to the US Consulate in early September. Photo: inmediahk.net.

The committees made “powerful changes” to the version of the bill passed, according to Sunny Cheung – a student leader who led a group to lobby the US Congress.

The bill originally stated that, if passed, officials involved in the 2015 abduction of five Causeway Bay Books booksellers and ill-fated extradition bill would be sanctioned. Cheung said that the scope would be expanded to include anyone who had violated internationally recognised human rights in Hong Kong.

“At the same time, the amended version at the House states that anyone who harmed the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law could be sanctioned, and their direct family members can have their visa voided,” Cheung said.

Sunny Cheung
Sunny Cheung (right). Photo: Facebook/Hong Kong IAD.

The original bill also stated that the US government would allow peaceful protesters to apply for a US visa without obstruction. Cheung said the amended reason removed the term “peaceful.”

“All Hongkongers would be happy to see the strengthen version,” he said.

Cheung also thanked the congressional assistants who penned the new version despite disagreements from other “rather pro-Beijing and powerful congressional assistants.”

“This strengthened version is not just the achievement of Hong Kong’s various lobbying groups, but the achievement of all frontline protesters with their blood and sweat,” Cheung said.

Hong Kong has seen more than 100 days of demonstration and unrest triggered by the soon-to-be-withdrawn extradition bill, which would have allowed case-by-case fugitive transfers to mainland China. Large-scale peaceful protests have morphed into sometimes violent displays of dissent over Beijing’s encroachment and alleged police brutality.

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On Wednesday, the Protect Hong Kong Act – aimed at prohibiting the sale of crowd control weapon to the Hong Kong police – was also passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It was originally proposed by House Representative Jim McGovern.

Representative Brad Sherman’s resolution, condemning China as intruding upon Hong Kong’s affairs and supporting Hongkongers’ right to protest, was also passed.

In Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry, as well as the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, criticised the passing of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act at congressional committees.

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China Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang. File Photo: China gov’t.

Geng Shuang, a foreign ministry spokesperson, said in a statement that the Act was blatant interference in China’s internal affairs.

Geng said the nature of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong had changed and turned violent. He added that it challenged the bottomline of the One Country, Two Systems principle, which gave rise to the city’s autonomy.

“The Chinese side strongly urges some people in the US Congress to see the situation clearly, to immediately stop pushing the bill in relation to Hong Kong, to stop interfering in Hong Kong and China’s internal affairs, so that the relationship between China and the US would not be further damaged,” he said.

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Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.