This column written by U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) was published in the January 2021 Family Council newsletter.

Jimmy Lai may be an unfamiliar name to most Arkansans, but his story is one we all need to know.

Lai, a Hong Kong media tycoon and leading pro-democracy advocate, has strong ties with the west—including here in the United States. He is the founder of Apple Daily, the city’s most-read pro-democracy newspaper, and as a respected voice of opposition, is often the target of abuse by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

The CCP detained Lai four times in 2020. His multiple arrests—including one under charges of violating a newly-enacted “national security” law—symbolize the extent to which mainland China will go in its quest to crush the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. 

The message is clear: Hong Kongers that are critical of Beijing will be treated as enemies by the CCP.

Hong Kong became part of China under a policy known as “one country, two systems”—which allowed it to retain its own economic and administrative systems. As a result, its citizens enjoy many liberties denied to those of mainland China. The CCP has long sought to impose its will on Hong Kong by encroaching on those rights, and the national security law passed last year has given it the authority to do so.

Hong Kong is required by statute to have a national security law, but failed to pass one through its legislature. This gave Beijing an opportunity to usurp authority and devise a national security law, the details of which were kept hidden until it was passed. 

The law enabled Beijing to establish its own security office in Hong Kong, with its own enforcement personnel, that do not have to adhere to the rules of local authorities. It allows for some cases to be tried in mainland China and for some proceedings to take place behind closed doors. The commission Hong Kong was required to establish to enforce the laws has a Beijing-appointed adviser, presumably to ensure that mainland China’s wishes are carried out. These requirements effectively replace Hong Kong’s common law judicial system with that of the CCP—and it is well documented that rights of the accused do not exist in the People’s Republic of China. 

Before COVID-19 shut down the world, the streets of Hong Kong were awash with demonstrators. These brave men and women were trying to warn the world of the CCP’s efforts to strip away their individual rights. These demonstrations clearly worried Beijing as the final provisions of the national security law it implemented on the people of Hong Kong criminalize efforts to peacefully demand change. 

In a show of support for the people of Hong Kong, Congress overwhelmingly passed two bills into law that strengthen the administration’s ability to punish senior Chinese leaders tied to human rights abuses and those that materially contribute to China's failure to preserve Hong Kong’s autonomy.

In November, President Trump used those authorities to invoke travel bans and financial sanctions on a number of Chinese officials. Immediately following the president’s announcement, authorities conducted raids across the city, arresting eight activists, including opposition lawmakers and protest organizers. 

These raids come on the heels of an escalation of the crackdown by the CCP. In the past month, three of Hong Kong’s more prominent pro-democracy activists were sentenced to prison for their roles in what the CCP deemed as an unauthorized assembly. 

The aim of all of these arrests is to silence ideas that run counter to Beijing’s party line. The CCP is using everything in its power, including the national security law, to retaliate against leaders of the pro-democracy movement.  

Which brings us back to the troubling case of Jimmy Lai. The charges brought against Lai under this law include “colluding with a foreign power” and carry a life sentence. He was denied bail after his last arrest, and will remain detained until at least April 2021. What has happened to Lai, and other opposition figures currently being targeted, is meant to scare the people of Hong Kong into submission.  

The free world has an obligation to continue to stand in solidarity with the people of Hong Kong as they fight to defend their basic democratic rights.