Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, which has been fighting against the Chinese Communist Party’s encroachment of the city’s liberties, has been awarded the 2020 Freedom Award by the Washington-based think tank Freedom House.
“Freedom House honors the protesters of Hong Kong,” the think tank said in an online awards event held on Sept. 16. It explained: “Hong Kong has now joined other groups mortally oppressed by China.”
Unfortunately, the think tank group said that it could not publicly name anyone in the movement because it would “put their lives at risk.” It pointed out that since Beijing’s innocently labelled national security law went into effect in Hong Kong in late June, “students have been detained, protest leaders arrested, activists disappeared, [and] professors fired.”
The pro-democracy movement, alongside wider calls for preserving Hong Kong’s freedoms and rule of law, began in June last year, when millions of Hongkongers took to the street to protest the local government’s now fully-scrapped extradition bill. The movement has since evolved in calls for greater democracy, such as universal suffrage for the city’s voters.
Beijing’s national security law punishes vaguely-defined crimes such as secession and subversion with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. In response, the U.S. government has revoked Hong Kong’s special trading status with the United States, and sanctioned Hong Kong and Chinese officials responsible for undermining the city’s autonomy.
“We all look forward to the day when we can say their names,” the think tank said, since “freedom will prevail [and] the human spirit cannot be controlled by the communist government of China.”
Freedom House has been handing out its annual Freedom Award since 1943 to recognize leaders who have championed freedom and democracy. Past honorees included Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, former UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The Sudanese Professionals Association and the Organization of the December Revolution Martyrs’ Families were also awarded a Freedom Award.
“All of us here at Freedom House are deeply moved by the courage and dedication of this year’s honorees in their work on behalf of freedom and democracy,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, according to a press release.
House leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) spoke at the online event.
“The Hong Kong protesters’ extraordinary outpouring of courage stands in stark contrast to a cowardly government that refuses to respect the rule of law or the one country, two systems framework, guaranteed more than two decades ago,” Pelosi said.
#FreedomAwards: Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi says that protest is a pillar of freedom that has been essential to building a just and equal world. @SpeakerPelosi https://t.co/qnLmWoaNhS pic.twitter.com/WFmL7a1ljN
— Freedom House (@freedomhouse) September 16, 2020
In 1984, China and the UK signed an international treaty called the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which outlined the terms of Hong Kong’s handover back to China in 1997.
Under the treaty, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution or Basic Law was drafted, which was to guarantee the city a high degree of autonomy from Beijing for at least 50 years after 1997 under the “one country, two systems” model.
“I can’t think of a better group of people for Freedom House to recognize than the people of Hong Kong, particularly those involved in defending democracy and freedom,” Rubio stated.
Rubio added: “While we watch in horror by what Beijing is doing [in Hong Kong], we are inspired by the bravery and the courage and the vision of those who are fighting to demand and protect democracy.”
Hong Kong activist Nathan Law, who is now in London after fleeing Hong Kong in early July, also spoke at the online event.
“Hong Kong is a forefront of the clash of authoritarianism and democratic values,” Law said.
Law said that western governments, like the United States and the United Kingdom, have played a critical role in “containing [China’s] authoritarian expansion” and in demanding that Beijing address its human rights violations.
“Freedom for me is about having eternal vigilance towards the injustice in society,” Law stated.
On Sept. 8, Hong Kong police announced on its Facebook page that 10,016 people had been arrested since the start of the mass protests in the city last June to Sept. 6.
Among those arrested, 2,210 have been charged for crimes such as “rioting” and “illegal assembly.”