Labour figures show solidarity with Hong Kong protesters as legal action begins

Elliot Chappell

38 Labour figures have declared that they stand in solidarity with trade unionists and democrats charged with ‘unauthorised assembly’ in Hong Kong for their role in organising the 2019 and 2020 pro-democracy protests.

The group of MPs and Lords shared a letter ahead of the trial of general secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions and vice-chair of the Hong Kong Labour Party Lee Cheuk-Yan and several others, which began on Tuesday.

The signatories, including Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Richard Burgon and Hilary Benn, demanded the release of all political prisoners in Hong Kong, universal suffrage in the region and repeal of the Chinese national security law.

Beijing bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature to impose a controversial anti-sedition law in June last year to crack down on pro-democracy campaigning in the city. It gave the Chinese government sweeping powers over the territory.

At a rally last month attended by Cheuk-Yan, Nadia Whittome, Clive Lewis and Nathan Law, McDonnell described the legal action as “Kafkaesque” and said the Labour MPs would use their parliamentary platform to expose what is happening.

The former Shadow Chancellor told those watching that there are some on the left who are arguing that “the right are using this campaign against the whole concept of socialism or communism” but declared this was “irrelevant”.

“There will always be these people who try and parade some of their attacks on socialism overall – in this way of course they’ll jump on bandwagons,” he said. “But it is for socialists like us and trade unionists like us to stand up.

“We’re the people who actually are fighting for our tradition here. And it’s about a tradition of democratic socialism and democratic trade unionism. We can’t stand to one side on this.”

Protests were sparked in 2019 by the fugitive offenders amendment bill that would have allowed extradition to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong did not have extradition agreements, including mainland China and Taiwan.

10,000 demonstrators have been arrested since 2019 and at least 2,000 charged with an offence. The charges in the case that started on Tuesday relate to a peaceful march attended by an estimated 1.7 million people on August 18th, 2019.

The organisers of the peaceful protest had been given permission to hold a rally in Victoria Park, but not for the march on the city streets. The police arrested 15 people and two other protesters eight months later.

Whittome called on everyone across the labour movement to speak out during her speech to the online rally, held online on January 30th, and urged those watching to pass motions in their trade union and local Labour Party branches.

“Socialism and internationalism go hand in hand. Regardless of where we live we’re part of one international working class. We’re part of one labour movement,” the Labour MP for Nottingham East told those watching.

She added: “The labour movement has to be an ally to Hong Kong residents… We’ve got to embrace them, to organise with them, to fight for their rights and alongside the rights of all migrants and refugees and all workers.”

Lewis argued that “the crisis of democracy is global” highlighting that the UK is facing restrictions on the right to vote through the introduction of voter ID requirements and challenges to the Human Rights Act and judicial review.

“The labour movement must stand in solidarity with Hong Kong protesters and those who have been arrested and imprisoned,” he said. “And members of parliament must do what we can because democracy is our common cause.”

Cheuk-yan is facing three other trials this year for organising unauthorised assemblies, including a 2020 vigil for the Tiananmen Square massacre. He said he will be lucky to win one, and that it is “inevitable” that he will go to prison.

“It’s the department of justice, the police department and the Hong Kong government who should be on trial because they have deprived us of our constitutional rights,” Cheuk-yan said on Tuesday. “This year is the year of the ox so we should be stubborn as an ox.”

The charges in the case, which is expected to last ten days, have not been brought under the new national security law imposed on Hong Kong last year although at least one of those accused will face charges under the legislation this year.

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions has warned that the legal action is “only the first of a huge wave of legal persecutions of dissidents in Hong Kong” and called on the UK Labour Party for support.

“We appeal to all in the Labour Party and in trade unions: to invite our speakers; pass motions of support as the PCS nationally has done; to support direct and legal action against companies who are complicit with the repression in Hong Kong; to welcome the 300,000 Hong Kongers expected to move to the UK and give them, as well as all migrants and refugees, full rights on their arrival.”

The UK civil servants’ trade union PCS passed a motion declaring its solidarity with trade union comrades after the Hong Kong chief executive demanded last month that all government workers take an oath of loyalty to the government.

Stephen Kinnock told LabourList: “As nine pro-democracy campaigners go on trial in Hong Kong, simply for exercising their right to peaceful protest, the Labour Party stands in solidarity with them – including the respected politician and trade union leader, Lee Cheuk-yan.

“The UK government has rightly offered refuge to British national overseas passport holders, but far more can and must be done to hold the Chinese government and the Hong Kong authorities to account for the human rights violations that they are perpetrating in Hong Kong.”

The shadow minister for Asia and the Pacific added: “For several months, Labour has called on the government to apply Magnitsky sanctions against the senior officials who have orchestrated the oppression of pro-democracy activists and politicians.”

The UK government announced last year, in response to the national security law, that it would be extending visa rights for Hong Kong British national (overseas) passport holders and applications under the new scheme began last month.

LabourList understands that both Kinnock and Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy have met several times with Nathan Law, former Hong Kong pro-democracy legislator Ted Hui and others.

Below is the full text of the letter.

On February 16th, a key trial will start in Hong Kong. Prominent trade union and democracy activists will face charges of organising an ‘unauthorised assembly’.

One of those is Lee Cheuk-Yan, general secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), chair of the HK Labour Party and a well-respected trade unionist of international standing.

International action has been called for by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in support of Lee and others facing trial for involvement in the democracy movement.

The ITUC is launching a social media campaign, coordinated in this country by the Labour Movement for Solidarity With Hong Kong (UK) and is inviting supporters to participate and express their solidarity.

In the trial that starts on February 16th, Lee and eight other prominent HK activists are charged with organising an ‘unauthorised assembly’. This was in response to the organising of the big march on 18 August 2019 attended by 1.7 million people – the first of four trials scheduled against Lee for organising marches banned in breach of the rights of assembly guaranteed under the Basic Law.

Over 10,000 Hong Kongers were arrested in the course of the 2019-2020 democracy protests and more than 2,000 charged. Many have already been imprisoned, including Joshua Wong. Many more are facing trial. Most of the more serious charges being brought under the National Security Law (NSL) – carrying up to ten year prison sentences – are only now being invoked.

Some of the most worrying arrests have been of those who stood in the 2019 democratic primaries in which 600,000 Hong Kongers voluntarily took part as voters.

Amongst them are leading trade unionists Carol Ng and Winnie Yu as well as most of the democracy leaders, Benny Tai, Joshua Wong and 50 others.

Carol became Chair of the HKCTU after leading the British Airways cabin crew union dispute. Winnie, chair of the health workers unions, the HAEA, led an eight-day strike of 8,000 health workers in February 2019.

Trade unions in Hong Kong have become a powerful platform for democracy. They have grown phenomenally over the last year. However, the laws are stacked against them and as a result of the 1997 ‘handover to China’ being enacted by a Tory government.

As in Britain, Hong Kong workers have no rights to take part in political strikes. Workers have consequently been victimised for their political beliefs. It is alleged that this has included British owned companies like the HSBC and Standard Chartered banks and by Swire, which has huge commercial investments in China and is owner of Cathay Pacific airline. Cathay Pacific was one of the first to be accused of sacking workers for social media expressions of support for Hong Kong democracy.

We demand of the Hong chief executive and the Chinese government that they release all political prisoners in Hong Kong, grant universal suffrage to the people of Hong Kong and repeal the National Security Law. We call for action against those British companies and individuals that are endorsing, collaborating with the NSL and the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong.

We will be showing our solidarity with Lee and the others being victimised in Hong Kong on the dates called for by the ITUC – February 14th and 15th and along the guidelines they suggest. We urge others to join us in this solidarity action – further info here.

We stand with Lee Cheuk-Yan, the Hong Kong independent trade unions, the democracy protests and for democratic freedom for Hong Kong.

We ask that others add their name to this call and join us in action next week.

In Solidarity.

John McDonnell MP
Nadia Whittome MP
Clive Lewis MP
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Richard Burgon MP
Chris Bryant MP
Graham Stringer MP
Navendu Mishra MP
Hilary Benn MP
Kate osamor MP
Beth Winter MP
Virendra Sharma MP
Rosie Cooper MP
Peter Dowd MP
Kate Osborne MP
Janet Daby MP
Kevin Brennan MP
Claudia Webb MP
Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP
Ian Mearns MP
Paula Barker MP
Rachel Hopkins MP
Grahame Morris MP
Kim Newton MP
Dan Carden MP
Ian Byrne MP
Rebecca Long Bailey MP
Zara Sultana MP
Jon Trickett MP
Ian Lavery MP
Apsana Begum MP
Mick Whitely MP
Kim Johnson MP
Lord Tony Woodley
Baroness Christine Blower
Baroness Katy Clark
Baroness Sharmi Chakrabarti

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