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Frances Hui's Testimony for CECC Hearing on Political Prisoners in Hong Kong

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

Testimony submitted by

Frances Hui

Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation

Founder and Director, We The Hongkongers

Dear Chairman Smith, Chairman Merkley, and Members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China,

I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the opportunity to provide testimony to the Commission. I am deeply honored to share the stories of those I know personally who are currently imprisoned for standing up for their basic freedoms in Hong Kong. Their dedication and courage in the face of adversity inspires me and many others to continue advocating for justice and democracy in Hong Kong.

I became an activist when I was 14 years old. I joined Scholarism, a student organization led by middle and high school students, including Joshua Wong, to protest the government’s national education proposal in 2012 and a Beijing-proposed new election method that sparked the Umbrella Movement in 2014. Throughout my time fighting for democracy in Hong Kong, I have met many like-minded, intelligent, and kind people whom I call friends. After the fall of our city to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) authoritarian rule, we provided supported for one another and became important leading voices of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. But now, many of these friends are either behind bars or living in fear because they continue to be monitored and harassed by Hong Kong authorities.

In 2020, we campaigned together for pro-democracy activists at the democratic primaries. I left Hong Kong soon after the election, as I had serious concerns for my safety under the newly implemented National Security Law (NSL). At that time, I was confident that the movement for freedom and justice would continue to thrive in Hong Kong. But who would have thought that all of those candidates from the democratic primaries would now be in prison and facing the possibility of life behind bars? Who would have thought that media outlets would be forced to shut down and journalists would be accused of publishing seditious materials? Who would have thought that civil society would be crushed and that so many people would have to flee Hong Kong, the city we have always called home.

It's been two years since the Hong Kong 47 were charged under the NSL. I secured asylum in the United States in 2021. The words “political prisoners” and “political asylee” are two labels that I never imagined would apply to me or my friends, but today that is the reality.

We cannot accept the status quo. We cannot condemn the CCP’s many human rights abuses without rejecting what the CCP is forcing Hong Kongers to endure. Securing the release of political prisoners in Hong Kong and alleviating their suffering should be a priority for the U.S. and the international community. As outlined in the recommendations appended to this written testimony, the U.S. has few apparatuses to advocate for the release of political prisoners. It’s important to encourage Members of Congress and the Administration to speak the names of prisoners like Jimmy Lai and Joshua Wong loudly and often in an effort to raise their public profiles and put pressure on the CCP to release them.

In addition to advocating for prisoners’ release, it is important to remember that civil and political liberties need protection and monitoring for those still living in Hong Kong. These include press freedom, internet freedom, and religious freedom. While a limited degree of freedom is still available in these areas, the vaguely written NSL has sent a chilling effect throughout society, encouraging self-censorship and further limiting the space for people to exercise their rights. Without a concerted effort to safeguard and preserve these small, free spaces, the condition of Hong Kong is likely to worsen. Additional vigilance is necessary from the international community. And the U.S. should closely monitor conditions in Hong Kong and continue to support those who remain there.

While many who feared persecution fled Hong Kong shortly after the implementation of the NSL, many others do not qualify for immigration programs introduced by other countries. They are in need of safe havens because they can be arrested at any time and become political prisoners. Additionally, many current political prisoners will complete their sentences, but they will likely be closely monitored by Hong Kong authorities and potentially face more persecution. It is also possible that we will see another large-scale crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong in the future. The U.S. should be prepared to provide humanitarian pathways for Hong Kongers under threat. As it stands, the routes for Hong Kongers to be resettled in the U.S. are limited and largely temporary. It is, therefore, timely for both the U.S. Administration and Congress to provide immediate and long-term relief to rectify these challenges by using the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), specifically the Priority-2 (P-2) refugee status.

In addition to the recommendations provided in the statement by the CFHK Foundation’s President Mark Clifford, I would like to offer some additional recommendations to address the pressing issues that I have raised above.

  1. Press for the release of all political prisoners including religious prisoners of conscience. There are hundreds of Hong Kong political prisoners that could be adopted by members of Congress or Commissioners at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. These include high-profile individuals, like Jimmy Lai, Joshua Wong, and others.

  2. Strengthen CECC's Political Prisoner Database as a resource for members to adopt Hong Kong political prisoners. The Congressional-Executive Commission on China runs a Political Prisoner Database which has identified at least 50 political prisoners currently held in Hong Kong. The database is a valuable resource for members of Congress and civil society to identify both the scope and scale of the political prisoner crisis in Hong Kong, and also helps in identifying potential prisoners that could be adopted and advocated for by members. The Commission can work with civil society organizations to identify more political prisoners in Hong Kong that have yet to be included in the database. In addition, the Commission should also consider working in tandem with the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission to nominate individuals in the database to the Defending Freedoms Project for Members of Congress to adopt their cases.

  3. Broaden multilateral cooperation among allies on Hong Kong. Allies and partners should coordinate sanctions efforts, refugee relief, and political prisoner advocacy to achieve a stronger and more comprehensive response to the challenges facing Hong Kong. The U.S. and the U.K. share common foreign policy priorities, making it advantageous for them to work together in securing the release of several British National Overseas citizens (BNOs) currently imprisoned in Hong Kong, identifying sanctions targets where the U.S. already has access to the necessary financial information, and drawing lessons from the U.K.'s early resettlement of Hong Kongers. Other allies, including EU member states, Japan, and Australia, could also play a crucial role in supporting U.S. efforts to hold the CCP and Hong Kong authorities accountable.

  4. Issue grants to support organizations that promote information access in Hong Kong. Programs that apply new and emerging technology and make use of older forms of technology (like radio news programming) serve valuable purposes for Hong Kongers who seek information about the government and international events. Grant-making authority ought to flow from a larger U.S. government initiative to support information access in Hong Kong.

  5. Convene a dialogue between the U.S. government and tech companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others to discuss best practices for maintaining a free and open internet in Hong Kong. The government can lead a working group to better coordinate efforts to stand against actions from the CCP and Hong Kong authorities that threaten the safety and security of Hong Kongers. Doing so would encourage U.S. tech firms to resist demands from the CCP that violate users’ rights, and it would allow better insight into the scope and scale of the CCP’s privacy infringements.

  6. Discourage the Vatican from expanding its 2018 deal with Beijing. The US should oppose any expansion of the Sino-Vatican deal in the strongest terms and continue diplomatic discussions with the Vatican to urge the repeal of the 2018 deal, which has already been renewed twice.

  7. Press for the release of all political prisoners including religious prisoners of conscience. There are hundreds of Hong Kong political prisoners that could be adopted by members of Congress or Commissioners at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. These include high-profile individuals, like Jimmy Lai, Joshua Wong, and others.

  8. Monitor deteriorations in religious freedom in Hong Kong. The US should monitor the state of religious persecution in Hong Kong, including the plight of 90-year-old Roman Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen, who filed an appeal to his conviction last year for failing to register a relief fund with the local authorities during the 2019 protests. The U.S. should also assist in establishing safe and secure channels to communicate with the underground church in the PRC and religious societies in Hong Kong.

  9. Partner with other persecuted groups in China to advance U.S. policy toward China. The development of more regularized and systematic mechanisms can help facilitate coordination with and between affected communities, including Uyghurs, Tibetans, Christians, and other persons of faith.

  10. Grant Priority-2 (P-2) refugee status to Hong Kongers and other persecuted minorities in China. This can be accomplished by Congress or the Administration and has already been demonstrated by the extension of P-2 status to Afghans following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act, among other legislative efforts in Congress, aims to do the same for Hong Kongers. Doing so would provide Hong Kongers with an expedited means of resettlement and the opportunity to seek permanent refuge within U.S. borders that rightly recognizes the permanence of the changes in the city-state.

Once again, thank you for providing me with a platform to share my perspective and to share with you the voices of my friends who continue to stand for freedom behind bars. I hope that this hearing will serve as a vital step toward promoting support for political prisoners and the persecuted people of Hong Kong. It's my wish that the international community does not forget the sufferings of the people of Hong Kong, who have stood on the front line in defending the freedom of the world, and will tirelessly explore ways to support them.

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