24 January 2024 – Yesterday, Tuesday (23 January 2024) the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva held a ‘Universal Periodic Review’ (UPR) on China. On the same day, British and Irish parliamentarians held debates about relations with China and Hong Kong, including the ongoing sham trial of 76-year-old Hong Kong entrepreneur and pro-democracy campaigner Jimmy Lai.
At the UN UPR on China, over 160 countries lined up to speak, with numerous delegates raising Beijing's human rights abuses including crackdowns on Tibet, Hong Kong, the genocide of Uyghurs and global transnational repression.
In 2018, only six countries raised human rights issues in Hong Kong.
Several of the countries that participated including, the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Czechia, urged the repeal of Hong Kong’s National Security Law (NSL). The UK delegation also highlighted the case of Jimmy Lai, who is currently on trial under the NSL
Meanwhile in the British and Irish Parliaments, debates took place on human rights and democracy in Hong Kong and China, including the trial of Jimmy Lai.
British Members of Parliament gathered to discuss the future of human rights in Hong Kong. Initiated by Tim Loughton MP, the Westminster Hall debate featured contributions from various MPs from several parties, including Labour’s Shadow Minister for Asia & the Pacific Catherine West MP, Alistair Carmichael MP (Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong) and Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP (Co-Chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China), Paul Scully MP, Layla Moran MP, Janet Daby MP and Jim Shannon MP.
Tim Loughton MP called on the British government to impose Magnitsky sanctions on Hong Kong officials responsible for the NSL crackdown and on those putting Jimmy Lai on trial and he urged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to call for his “immediate and unconditional release”.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Foreign Minister for the Indo-Pacific region, responding on behalf of the Government, assured MPs that the UK government would take any misuse of Interpol by Chinese and Hong Kong authorities “very seriously,” and said that the naming of British citizens in the Jimmy Lai trial as “unacceptable” and indicated that the Foreign Office continues to consider sanctions on Hong Kong officials.
MPs also argued that retired British judges still serving in Hong Kong ought to resign their positions and called for HSBC and other financial institutions to be pressured into allowing British National Overseas passport holders leaving Hong Kong to be allowed to withdraw their pension savings.
The Seanad Éireann (the Irish Parliament's Upper House) debated a motion on Ireland-China relations. The motion called on the Irish government to increase pressure on the Hong Kong authorities to uphold the rule of law and to reconsider Irish dependence on trade agreements with China.
Senator Malcolm Byrne raised the trial of Jimmy Lai, stating: “Jimmy Lai’s arrest and ongoing detention is because he spoke out for democracy and for a free, fair and balanced Hong Kong”. He also called for transparency from the Irish government on what was discussed during the visit of China’s Premier, Li Qiang, following an announcement of increased beef trade and visa liberalisation.
Senator Barry Ward mentioned Hong Kong democracy activist Andy Li who was coerced into pleading guilty to “ foreign collusion” during the trial of Jimmy Lai, and the collapse of rule of law in the city since the introduction of the Nationals Security Law.
Mark Sabah, Director of The Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation said: "If the Hong Kong authorities thought that the world would look away as they ran roughshod over basic rights and civil liberties, then yesterday was a rude awakening. The UN, British and Irish elected representatives all discussed the behaviour of China towards other countries, regions and even individual citizens. I applaud all the politicians who took part and spoke in the debates in the UK and Ireland. Their voices raise awareness and elevate the situation in Hong Kong and for political prisoners like Jimmy Lai, and we must continue to do so.”