22 Feb Politicians in exile call for more action on Hong Kong
Eryk Bagshaw – The Sydney Morning Herald – Saturday 20 February 2021
Hong Kong politicians in exile want Australia to offer a haven to pro-democracy activists trapped in the Chinese territory, stop Australian judges from serving on its top court, and sanction financial institutions, as more activists are arrested for subverting Beijing.
Legislative councillor Ted Hui, who fled Hong Kong for Europe with his young family while on bail, said he appreciated Australia’s offer to extend visas for Hongkongers already in the country but “it was far from adequate”.
“I cannot see other lifeboat plans that would help protesters or the family members now being threatened,” he said.
The federal government launched a program in July aimed at students and skilled workers in Australia, extending their visas by five years, after Beijing imposed new national security laws that punished dissent in the semiautonomous region with sentences of up to life in prison.
The Department of Home Affairs said yesterday that 2584 visas had been extended.
“The visas are not for prodemocracy activists or family units who would like to migrate together,” said Hui. “The situation in Hong Kong at the moment is miserable. The persecution of different people is escalating.”
Another 55 Hongkongers, including social workers, disability rights activists, politicians and students, were detained in the territory in January on charges of subversion. “It is not just activists but other professions and teachers,” said Hui.
“The spectrum that has been targeted range from the most moderate to the most radical. It is a big message that all dissent will be silenced, very soon.”
The Hong Kong government maintains the laws are necessary to restore order to the global financial hub after protests against Beijing’s rising influence rocked the city in 2019 and 2020.
A spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs said the Australian government had been consistent in expressing concerns about the imposition of the national security law and was troubled by the law’s implications for Hong Kong’s judicial independence, and the rights enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong.
Speaking from London where he is now based, Hui said Australia should use Magnitsky laws to target individuals and corporations involved in human rights breaches with the Chinese Communist Party.
In December, Hui had his and his families accounts locked by HSBC, Hang Seng Bank and the Bank of China after Hong Kong police ordered the financial institutions to freeze his funds over money-laundering allegations.
He denies the allegations. Hui said HSBC should have resisted the police direction. “It refused to confront the regime. It did not get a court order.”
Hui said other dissidents, nongovernment organisations and charities targeted by police had also had their accounts frozen by Hong Kong financial institutions.
A HSBC spokeswoman said the bank was unable to comment on individual cases.
“When we get a specific legal instruction by police authorities in Hong Kong, or anywhere else, to freeze the accounts of somebody under formal investigation, we have no choice but to comply,” she said.
Hui met with a group of Victorian MPs in early February to lobby for stronger action on China. His pro-democracy colleague, Sunny Cheung, has previously spoken with the new chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, James Paterson.
The Magnitsky laws will give the Australian government similar powers to the US to impose visa, property and financial sanctions on individuals who commit human rights abuses. They are expected to be introduced to Federal Parliament this year.
“I am trying to encourage them to pass the law,” said Cheung. Speaking from an undisclosed location due to fears for his safety, Cheung said Australian judges still serving on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal should leave Hong Kong.
Thirty non-permanent judges from across the Commonwealth have presided in the court since the British handover to China in 1997 to continue the common law tradition in the territory.
“If the world still recognises the legal system in Hong Kong, Beijing can still claim that everything is impartial,” said Cheung. “But that is not true.”