Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) is calling on President Joe Biden to speak out against China’s assault on democracy in Hong Kong, after nine activists in the Chinese-ruled city were given months-long sentences for commemorating victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
“Once a thriving democracy, Hong Kong is now fully under the oppressive rule of General Secretary Xi Jinping and the Communist Chinese government. These unwarranted and unjustifiable arrests are just the latest proof of Hong Kong’s sad transformation,” Scott said in a statement.
Among those sentenced to prison on Sept. 15 was Albert Ho, former chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which has organized the annual candlelight vigil since 1990.
Hong Kong authorities banned the vigil in 2020 and 2021, citing concerns about the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, the pathogen that causes COVID-19.
Despite the ban, thousands of people, including Ho, gathered at the city’s Victoria Park on June 4, 2020, to remember the student protesters.
On Sept. 15, Ho was sentenced to 10 months in prison. Several former pro-democracy lawmakers, including Leung Kwok-hung and Eddie Chu, were given six-month prison terms for participating in the vigil.
Ho, who’s already serving 18 months for his role in protests in 2019, will serve the new sentence concurrently.
In December 2020, U.S.-based organization Human Rights First awarded Ho its 2020 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award in recognition of his decades-long achievement as a human rights defender.
In all, the nine activists received sentences ranging from 6 to 10 months. Three other activists were given suspended sentences.
“As the world’s dictators continue their assaults on democracy, free speech, and human rights, Joe Biden is silent,” Scott said.
“As the leader of the free world, Joe Biden should be the loudest voice condemning Communist China’s transgressions, but he is again missing in action.
“Instead of continuing his failed appeasement, it’s time for Biden to clearly and unapologetically stand for the rights of Hong Kongers and the protection of freedom and democracy around the world.”
The 12 people who were dealt sentences on Sept. 15 were among a total of 26 activists charged in connection with the vigil in 2020. Nathan Law and Sunny Cheung fled the city before they were summoned to court in September 2020.
Prominent young activists Joshua Wong, Lester Shum, Tiffany Yuen, and Janelle Leung, were given jail terms in April after they pleaded guilty to unlawful assembly charges. In May, Wong was sentenced to an additional 10 months in jail.
The remaining eight defendants who face charges will stand trial in November, including Lee Cheuk Yan, the leader of the Alliance. They’ve pleaded not guilty.
On Sept. 16, 61 Hong Kong and international human rights groups—including Freedom House, Hong Kong Watch, Human Rights Watch, and Safeguard Defenders—joined together to call on the Hong Kong government to drop all charges against the leaders of the Alliance.
“By arresting vigil organizers, Beijing and Hong Kong authorities are telling the world they’re not only afraid of the most peaceful protests, but also of their own brutal past,” said Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch’s China director.
“They should end this political persecution and immediately drop the charges and release the vigil organizers.”
Mimi Nguyen Ly contributed to his article.