Good afternoon, thank you.
It is an honour to participate in today's meeting, and thank you for your attention to the important matter of deteriorating freedom in Hong Kong.
I am the director of advocacy at Freedom House, a non-partisan, independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world. We provide research and analysis on the state of political rights and civil liberties, undertake advocacy on key issues impacting democracy, and carry out international programmatic work to strengthen democratic institutions and civil society capacity.
Our work on China-related issues includes tracking the status of rights and freedoms in our annual publications; special reports on Hong Kong, and on Beijing's global media influence, and on the oppression of religious groups in China; and advocacy work on all of these issues, including vocal support for the imposition of sanctions on officials involved in rights abuses in Hong Kong and mainland China.
As you may have seen, this work landed Freedom House on a list of organizations sanctioned by Beijing last December. We were not deterred, and our continued focus on the rapidly deteriorating rights situation in Hong Kong resulted in Freedom House president, Mike Abramowitz, being one of 11 Americans sanctioned just this week by the Chinese Communist Party for “bad behaviour” related to Hong Kong. The inconvenience these sanctions pose to Freedom House staff pales in comparison to the sacrifices made by those in Hong Kong and mainland China seeking to protect and promote rights and freedoms. It is our honour to stand with them.
Freedom House has tracked a decline in democracy and human rights conditions in Hong Kong over the last decade, alongside increasing interference by the Chinese government. This decline stems from worsening repression in China as a whole as Xi Jinping has intensified efforts to exert control both at home and abroad. Our “Freedom in the World” scores for both mainland China and Hong Kong have never been lower.
The one country, two systems framework that was worked out before the 1997 handover was, as you know, supposed to guarantee autonomy and protection of rights in Hong Kong until 2047. Of course, this has not happened in practice. The CCP began tightening control in Hong Kong long before 2047. The current protest movement, which I must point out was entirely initiated by the people of Hong Kong and is completely citizen-led, began last March and is bigger and more intense than past pro-democracy demonstrations there. Protesters have faced violence from police and pro-Beijing thugs. Some have recorded mistreatment and detention, including sexual abuse, and many have raised concerns about mysterious supposed suicides of protesters.
Unable to silence the justified and growing unrest in Hong Kong, Beijing effectively terminated the one country, two systems model by imposing the sweeping new national security law. As you know, this law effectively criminalizes dissent by anyone in the world, anywhere in the world. Since the law took effect on June 30, we are witnessing the transformation of Hong Kong into an authoritarian state at breakneck speed.
Why should anyone in Canada care about repression in Hong Kong, especially given all that's going on in the world? There are the economic and security arguments. Hong Kong is home to 300,000 Canadians. It is Canada's third-largest market for the export of services, and 13th largest market for the export of merchandise, which together totalled $5.1 billion in 2017.
What is probably most compelling to the public is the fact that CCP repression in Hong Kong is directly impacting what people are able to do in their daily lives, even in Canada. Canadians living in Hong Kong are, of course, at risk of arrest. They may also fall victim to politically motivated arrests, besides just national security law issues, as we have seen happen in mainland China. You are, of course, well aware of the cases of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Perhaps less well known is the case of Sun Qian, a Canadian citizen just sentenced in Beijing to eight years in prison for being a Falun Gong practitioner. It is possible that these types of arrests could now also occur in Hong Kong.
Repression in Hong Kong poses a direct threat to those living in Canada too. The CCP is well-known for targeting dissidents and critics living abroad. As you heard on Tuesday, the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China and Amnesty International Canada did a wonderful report on the harassment and intimidation faced by individuals in Canada working on China human rights issues. The report found that advocates across Canada are increasingly facing threats, intimidation and harassment for their work on human rights in China. The report also noted that many of these incidents are occurring on university campuses and in secondary schools. We see similar tactics in the U.S.
Hong Kong's national security law takes the risks of intimidation and surveillance a step further. It criminalizes provoking hatred toward the Chinese and Hong Kong governments or colluding with foreign powers. Anyone deemed guilty of subverting state powers or inciting secession could face life in prison. It even applies to actions undertaken outside the region by people who are not even permanent residents of the region. This means that anyone in Canada speaking out again repression in Hong Kong could face arrest.
Samuel Chu, an American citizen, faces precisely this scenario. You will hear from him next, and I will let him tell his own story. The fact that he, as an American citizen, is wanted for arrest in Hong Kong due to advocacy work done in the U.S. signals just how far the CCP is attempting to extend repression.
There are also reports that Hong Kong authorities are seeking Jimmy Lai's American assistant, Mark Simon. Mr. Chu and Mr. Simon both risk arrest and possibly decades behind bars were they to travel to any country that might extradite them to mainland China or Hong Kong.
Repression in Hong Kong also impacts the information available to Canadians, the products and services they purchase and the news and entertainment they consume. Many scholars and politicians in Hong Kong have served as important sources of information for policy-makers and academics around the world, not just about what is happening in Hong Kong but also about what is occurring in mainland China and elsewhere in Asia. Many of these voices are no longer accessible. Prominent academics, activists, journalists and political candidates have been arrested in recent weeks. Others have been scared into silence. Political groups and advocacy coalitions have disbanded, removing reports and materials from the web, deleting social media accounts and changing phone numbers and email addresses. We do not yet know the long-term impacts of this loss of critical information, but it is not insignificant.
Hong Kong has also emerged as a new CCP red line for international corporations, which have come under pressure to censor their own communications and products. Air Canada, the Royal Bank and Canadian multinationals like Apple, Amazon and Siemens have all been accused by the CCP of supposedly listing Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan incorrectly on their websites and have faced enormous pressure to modify their websites accordingly.
In October 2019, the National Basketball Association found itself in hot water after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong”. Chinese officials expressed outrage. The Chinese Basketball Association cut ties with the Rockets, and Chinese state television refused to air Rockets games. The NBA and various players quickly apologized and distanced themselves from the tweet, which in turn sparked criticism from groups like ours that objected to the NBA's failure to defend free speech. Hundreds showed up to NBA games to protest, including about 300 people wearing “Stand with Hong Kong” T-shirts at the Toronto Raptors season opener. Elsewhere, pro-democracy protesters were ejected from games or had their signs confiscated for holding up slogans as benign as “Google Uighurs”.
Canadian media has also been impacted by repression in Hong Kong and mainland China. Over the past decade, top CCP officials have overseen a dramatic expansion in efforts to influence public debate and media coverage around the world, including pressuring newsrooms to censor content critical of the regime. Two journalists at Canada's Global Chinese Press were fired in 2016 and 2017 after publishing content deemed displeasing to Beijing.
CCP repression is even making its way into living rooms across Canada via Chinese state-run television. Despite a 2006 ruling by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that CCTV-4 could continue to operate in Canada only if it remained in compliance with broadcasting regulations, both CCTV-4 and CGTN have broadcast false information about Hong Kong protests and the retention of Uighurs and about 30 forced confessions, all viewable by anyone in Canada who tunes in to these stations.
We at Freedom House are often told that, although repression in Hong Kong is terrible, it doesn't impact us here, but that's just not true. CCP repression is already shaping what we can say, where we can travel, the products we buy, and even the news we read. It's bad enough that the CCP routinely breaks Chinese laws and international commitments by violating the rights of people in mainland China and Hong Kong. The regime certainly should not be permitted to do so in Canada.
I look forward to sharing specific recommendations during the question and answer time. Thank you.