U.S. Senate Unanimously Passes Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Bill

Nov 20, 2019 03:02 AM EST

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill that aims at protecting the human rights and autonomy and freedoms of Hong Kong, which sends a message of hope to many pro-democracy protestors in the former British colony handed back to China in 1997, while drawing condemnation from Beijing.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio's Bill, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, was passed on Tuesday evening, on the heel of violent siege of Polytechnic University of Hong Kong by the Hong Kong Police Force.

"The world witnesses the people of Hong Kong standing up every day to defend their long-cherished freedoms against an increasingly aggressive Beijing and Hong Kong government. Their cries have been met with violence, and young Hong Kong lives have tragically been lost," Rubio said in a statement. "Now more than ever, the United States must send a clear message to Beijing that the free world stands with Hong Kongers in their struggle."

While student protestors threw petrol bombs and bricks, the police fired thousands of rubber bullets and tear gases and hundreds of bean bag round and sponge grenade, and threatened to use live ammunition. Video footages circulating online captured the polices' brutal treatments against the arrested student protestors.

Over 5,000 people, with the youngest at just 12 years old and the oldest at 82, have been arrested to date, and hundreds of people have endured broken bones, crushed skulls, and other injuries resulting from police brutality and "improportionate" use of force. Arbitrary arrests of women, white collar workers and children, and beatings behind closed doors have contributed towards the wide-spread distrust, fear and hatred towards the police force. 

On the other hand, video footage showed a man being set alight on fire after he criticized a group of masked people vandalizing the Hong Kong metro stations. The 57-year-old man suffered second-degree burns on 28% of his body. This incident has shocked both those in the pro-democracy camps and the pro-beijing camps. On that day, a student protestor was shot in the torso by a traffic police and shots fired into the crowd, which was the second young adult shot with live ammunition by police. 

About a week and half ago, a Christian student protestor died from a fall from a second-story parking garage after police started chasing and deploying tear gas against the demonstrators. While the cause is unconfirmed and the demonstrators suspect the police were responsible, the police spokesman has denied all wrongdoings.

Meanwhile, a 70-year-old street cleaner died after getting hit in the head with a brick during a clash between black-clad protesters and opponents. While it is not immediately clear who threw the brick, the police has classified the death as murder. 

The footages of violence and news of deaths were shared widely on social media in Hong Kong, and both sides have expressed saddness.

However, photos and video footages of police dressed as protestors severly injuring people, vandalizing the metro stations have caused doubts about the alleged violence by the protesters.

The Bill, co-sponsored by over 50 other senators, will be passed to the House of Representatives, which earlier also unanimously approved its own version, and then the two chambers will need to reconcile the bill before sending it on to President Donald Trump for signing or vetoing.

"Today, the United States Senate sent a clear message to Hong Kongers fighting for their long-cherished freedoms: we hear you, we continue to stand with you, and we will not stand idly by as Beijing undermines your autonomy," Rubio said. "The passage of this bill is an important step in holding accountable those Chinese and Hong Kong government officials responsible for Hong Kong's eroding autonomy and human rights violations. I thank Senator Cardin, Chairman Risch, and Ranking Member Menendez for their strong partnership on this legislation, as well as Leaders McConnell and Schumer for their support."

Co-founder and chair of human rights charity Hong Kong Watch, Ben Rogers told Premier Christianity the Hong Kong government is to blame for the escalating violence and called for it to "address the grievances and the demands of the protesters".

"We of course, condemn acts of violence by the students, but we also have to understand that has been as a result of the desperation and frustration.

"It's worth remembering that the violence really was started by the police. The protests were entirely peaceful some months ago."

"The government need to hold an independent inquiry into police brutality, an inquiry that holds the police accountable for horrific violence that they have carried out, but also to set out a plan for political reform for universal suffrage for democracy."

"If they don't do that, the only way it's going to end is I fear is with an even more severe and bloody crackdown," he told Premiere. 

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said following passage of the bill: "We have sent a message to President Xi (Jinping): Your suppression of freedom, whether in Hong Kong, in northwest China or in anywhere else, will not stand. You cannot be a great leader - and you cannot be a great country - when you oppose freedom, when you are so brutal to the people of Hong Kong, young and old, who are protesting."