Six Hong Kong residents who publicly advocate for autonomy, democracy, and freedom of speech and assembly have received nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize from U.S. lawmakers, on either side of the political aisle, amid the Chinese communist regime’s ongoing clampdown on the city.
Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who serve as chair and co-chair respectively of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, along with Rep. James P. McGovern (D-Mass.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who are former chairs of the same body, announced on Feb. 2 that they had named the six activists are worthy of consideration for the prize.
The six people nominated by the bipartisan team of lawmakers are Jimmy Lai, Cardinal Joseph Zen, Tonyee Chow Hang-tung, Joshua Wong, Gwyneth Ho, and Lee Cheuk-Yan.
Jimmy Lai has been confined in a Hong Kong prison almost continuously since August 2020 for alleged violations including of the region’s national security law, a statute implemented in June of that year which accords the Chinese authorities broad powers to lock up citizens for alleged subversion and other vaguely-defined offenses.
Police have conducted raids on the offices of the newspaper that Lai founded, Apple Daily, and have confiscated computers and notebooks from the offices, shut down the newspaper’s operations, and frozen its bank accounts, forcing the outlet’s closure in June 2021. Lai’s activities on behalf of free speech and other rights, and his prosecution and imprisonment, are the subject of a documentary “The Hong Konger” produced by the Acton Institute, a Michigan-based think tank.
Cardinal Joseph Zen has also been arrested and convicted on charges related to his having established a fund to provide legal support to people facing prosecution at the hands of the Chinese authorities for their involvement in the pro-democracy movement that commenced in 2019. Zen was fined HK$4,000 ($509) and has appealed his conviction.
Tonyee Chow Hang-tung is another activist arrested and charged by Chinese officials for having encouraged other people to take part in annual vigils on behalf of the casualties of the brutal crackdown on Tiananmen Square protestors in June 1989. Her case has come to the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council, but despite its petitions to the regime in Beijing, she has twice been denied bail and is currently awaiting a date for her trial.
Joshua Wong is a prominent pro-democracy activist who has faced prosecution under national security law and other offenses for his activism, following a previous conviction that sent him to prison for his involvement with the 2014 Umbrella Movement. Wong is serving time in prison for subversion, to which he pled guilty in August 2022.
Gwenyth Ho has been charged under the same statute for her participation in an opinion poll preceding an election. In July 2019, she live-streamed a mob attack and suffered injuries in the course of the incident. The delayed response of the police led some to question their neutrality in upholding the law. Ho received a six-month prison sentence in December 2021.
Lee Cheuk-Yan is a former legislator with a background in labor activism who is also facing prosecution on national security grounds for having taken part in authorized gatherings. In April 2021, he received a 14-month prison sentence along with Lai and other dissidents.