British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Friday called on China to stop prosecuting pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong, following the jailing of media tycoon Jimmy Lai and other veteran activists.
“The Hong Kong authorities’ decision to target leading pro-democracy figures for prosecution must stop,” Raab said on Twitter.
“We will continue to stand together with the people of Hong Kong.”
His comments came hours after 10 pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong were sentenced in two separate cases.
Among them was Jimmy Lai, a media tycoon, who was jailed for 14 months after being found guilty of having a role in two rallies in 2019, during the peak of a democracy uprising that paralysed Hong Kong for months.
Lai, the owner of Hong Kong’s best-selling Apple Daily — a popular tabloid that is unashamedly pro-democracy and fiercely critical of authorities — has held UK citizenship since before Britain handed Hong Kong back to Chinese rule in 1997.
However, Britain’s foreign ministry has previously said it cannot offer him consular assistance as China does not recognise dual nationality.
UK-China relations have become increasingly strained over Hong Kong and several other issues, including espionage, cyber-attacks and Beijing’s broader human rights record.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has vowed to provide long-term sanctuary for Hong Kong residents who want to leave the territory amid China’s crackdown on the pro-democracy movement there.
A sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing last summer, which Lai has been jailed under, has dramatically accelerated the clampdown.
The UK government has offered Hong Kong residents a path to citizenship, with anyone holding a British National (Overseas) passport and their dependents now able to apply online for a visa allowing them to live and work in Britain.
After five years, they can apply for citizenship.
It could pave the way for more than three million Hong Kongers to eventually move to Britain.