Activists who petitioned Berlin to place sanctions on China over Hong Kong’s political crackdown have called for “real action” after the German parliament heard their demands on Monday.

Rights activists Glacier Kwong and David Missal led a petition last September calling on Germany to sanction Hong Kong officials over the national security law passed by Beijing last June. The online petition reached the 50,000 signatures needed for a parliamentary hearing within a month.

Glacier Kwong and David Missal. Photo: Wir fur Hongkong.

At Monday’s hearing, Kwong urged Germany to “have a real and robust policy on China” and “implement targeted sanction against individuals in Hong Kong and China… to hold China accountable and honour Germany’s commitment to democratic values.”

“Drastically, the national security law erodes the crumbling pillars of the city’s rule of law and democracy,” the activist said in her opening speech. “Hongkongers now live in a quasi-police state and mass surveillance. The vaguely-termed law overrides the Basic Law and the Common Law system.”

Kwong also called on German authorities to waive visa requirements for Hongkongers looking to flee the city, citing pandemic difficulties preventing them from applying for a visa in person.

“Hong Kong used to be a safe harbour. But now Hong Kong needs a safe harbour,” she said, appealing to Germany’s commitment to international law and defending human rights.

Photo: GovHK.

Foreign governments and rights group have decried a crackdown by Hong Kong authorities on political opposition after 55 democrats were arrested for alleged subversion under the security law earlier this month. Hong Kong officials have repeatedly asserted that the law was necessary to restore order to the city after months of pro-democracy protests in 2019.

In response, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry in Berlin referred to measures already taken by German authorities since the law’s passing, including suspending its extradition agreement with Hong Kong and the extension of visa rights for its citizens.

She also referred to the newly-passed European Magnitsky Act, saying Germany will continue monitoring the situation in Hong Kong and look for “speedy” consultations with other European states. However, she cited the need to reach a unanimous EU decision “This will take some time…But the work starts now.”

The EU Parliament adopted a global human rights sanctions regime last month, allowing European states to freeze assets and impose travel bans on individuals deemed to be involved in “serious human rights abuses.”

‘Real action’ needed

Missal said on Tuesday that the authorities’ response was inadequate.

“There was no real action from Germany or EU when it comes to all the human rights violations…be it in mainland China in Xinjiang or in Hong Kong,” he said in a video interview with an activist documentary maker on Twitter.

“What we really need now is to have real actions and not empty words,” he added.

Missal was expelled from China in 2018 while Kwong has reportedly received threats online over her lobbying work abroad.

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

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.”

Chief Executive Carrie Lam at a press conference before the Executive Council meeting on January 5, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

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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.