Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigners have called on Britain to sanction officials responsible for the clampdown on political dissent in the city, to coincide with the 180th anniversary of the founding of modern Hong Kong.

“[January 26] marks 180 years of an important global relationship between Great Britain and Hong Kong,” said James Song, a member of Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong. “Now, more than ever, Britain must support Hong Kong in standing up for principles of freedom, trade and international bonds on which the city was founded.”

A flag of colonial-era Hong Kong is flown at the July 7 protest march in West Kowloon. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

In a letter addressed to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, the group urged British authorities to place Magnitsky-style sanctions on Hong Kong officials, saying repeated official statements have not deterred authorities’ continued quashing of civil liberties.

“The Chinese Government and its agents are moving ruthlessly to restrict freedoms that had previously existed; to clamp down on freedom of speech, of the press, of association and of movement; and to destroy what limited democracy had previously been permitted,” the letter read.

The group also wrote to Home Secretary Priti Patel, praising the extended British National (Overseas) visa scheme as “a vital life-saving opportunity” for Hongkongers but urging a “greater response.”

“Magnitsky-style sanctions and a fully accessible BN(O) visa scheme will enable Hongkongers to live free from oppression, and show Beijing that it cannot disregard international law and human rights without consequences,” Song said.

The BN(O) passport. A distinctive feature is that it does not have “European Union” on top. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The extended BN(O) visa scheme will allow all holders of a BN(O) passport and first and second-degree dependants to work and study in the UK, with a six year pathway to full citizenship. The extended scheme is set to launch on Sunday.

Around three million Hongkongers are estimated to be eligible for a BN(O) passport, as speculation swirls about a possible exodus from the city following the passage of the draconian national security law last summer.

Raab has in recent months repeatedly criticised authorities’ crackdown on political dissent in the city.

Earlier this month, he decried the mass arrest of 55 democrats as a “grievous attack” on the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, in which Beijing promised Hong Kong’s way of life would remain unchanged for 50 years. In September, the foreign secretary said he was “carefully considering” sanctions against Hong Kong.

Hong Kong became a British colony in 1841, when its forces occupied Hong Kong island following victory in the First Opium War. It was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Beijing and the Hong Kong government have consistently rejected calls for sanctions.

Carrie Lam. File Photo: HKIBC screenshot.

At Tuesday’s 2021 Hong Kong Forum on US-China Relations, Lam said the security law was justified: “It is the legitimate right and duty of every state to safeguard its national security. Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China with a high degree of autonomy under the “One Country, Two Systems” principle. Given the extreme social unrest and violence that overwhelmed Hong Kong in 2019, the enactment of the National Security Law by the Central Authorities was both necessary and rational.”

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Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.