Why Jimmy Lai and Hong Kong’s Democracy Advocates Need Biden’s Public Support Right NowRoundup
tags: China, democracy, human rights, Hong Kong
Natan Sharansky is a human rights activist and former political prisoner in the Soviet Union. He and Gil Troy, a presidential historian at McGill University, co-authored Never Alone: Prison, Politics, and My People.
One of Hong Kong’s most prominent democracy advocates, 72-year-old clothing and media mogul Jimmy Lai, was charged Friday under an oppressive security law imposed by China earlier this year. He is accused of colluding with foreign entities and faces possible life imprisonment. On Saturday, he was denied bail.
Lai, who owns the staunchly pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, has been targeted repeatedly by Beijing and the Hong Kong government. As China escalates its attacks on Hong Kong’s democracy movement and tries to silence Lai, the Chinese government is clearly hoping to exploit Americans’ distraction during the presidential transition.
Over the weekend, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that China’s national security law “makes a mockery of justice,” adding that Lai’s “only ‘crime’ is speaking the truth about the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarianism and fear of freedom. Charges should be dropped and he should be released immediately.”
Jake Sullivan, who will be president-elect Joe Biden’s national security adviser, tweeted on Dec. 8 about the arrest of eight Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, saying, “We stand united with our allies and partners against China’s assault on Hong Kong’s freedoms—and to help those persecuted find safe haven.”
But tweets are not enough, and a stronger, more vocal show of support would be best if it came from the person who will soon occupy the Oval Office. History shows us that such a statement of support from an American leader can be doubly beneficial, putting an authoritarian regime on notice and reinforcing the resolve of those who fight for liberty.
Responding to a letter from Soviet dissident and scientist Andrei Sakharov asking for his support, the newly inaugurated President Jimmy Carter in 1977 publicly promised in his reply: “We shall use our good offices to seek the release of prisoners of conscience … I am always glad to hear from you, and I wish you well.” This was the first official statement from an American president to a Soviet dissident, and it electrified those of us in the Soviet dissident community, fortifying our struggle and confirming its significance on the international stage.