Updated: Jul 26
An estimated 10,000 Hong Kongers were arrested in the wake of the 2019 protests. As of May 2023, over 1,400 political prisoners remain held in Hong Kong. These prisoners include high-profile individuals who were active in the pro-democracy movement, such as Jimmy Lai, Joshua Wong, Lee Cheuk-yan, and Gwyneth Ho. Despite being imprisoned, they continue to face active persecution by local authorities. Securing the release of these political prisoners should be a top priority for both the Biden administration and for Congress. The U.S. already has apparatuses in place to secure prisoner releases, however many of them lack oversight and are rarely used to alleviate the suffering of the most persecuted.
How Can We Advocate for Political Prisoners in Hong Kong?
To advocate for the release of political prisoners in Hong Kong, the U.S. government, should:
Strengthen and streamline the Defending Freedoms Project to improve outcomes in political prisoner advocacy. The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan caucus of the United States House of Representatives set up to defend international human rights, should consider requiring Congressional offices to submit an annual report detailing the steps they took to support the political prisoners they “adopted” after securing their release. The Commission should routinely provide offices with a list of eligible political prisoners for adoption. They can also broaden their outreach by improving the quality of resources given to constituents with family members or friends who may be eligible for adoption on how to craft effective applications for members.
Develop a regularized mechanism between Congress and the executive branch to press for the release of all political prisoners in Hong Kong. Congress should mandate a report from the relevant bureaus and offices at the Department of State that would outline actions taken to promote the release of political prisoners from China. In addition, Congress should hold regular meetings with executive branch staff to discuss updates about Hong Kong political prisoners' well-being, steps taken to secure their release, and plans for future advocacy.
Encourage members of Congress and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to adopt additional Hong Kong political prisoners. Among the thousands of political prisoners in Hong Kong, no one has been adopted by a member of Congress under the Defending Freedoms Project. Although the USCIRF has adopted Jimmy Lai as religious prisoner of conscience, it should continue its efforts for other religious advocates that are imprisoned for political reasons in Hong Kong.