Activists urge sanctions on Hong Kong judges following the arrest of Canadian Denise Ho

VANCOUVER—Ottawa must introduce sanctions on Hong Kong officials and members of the region’s judiciary after the arrest of prominent democracy activists who had run a legal fund for those involved in pro-democracy protests, say supporters in Canada.

Canadian singer Denise Ho, 90-year-old Catholic cardinal Joseph Zen, scholar Hui Po-keung and lawyer Margaret Ng were among those arrested by Hong Kong National Security Police Wednesday, according to the U.K.-based human rights group Hong Kong Watch. The foursome were apparently accused of colluding with foreign forces.

“Give tougher sanctions to these government officials,” said Thekla Lit, of the Vancouver-based Concern Group of Chinese Canadians on CCP Human Rights Violations, in wake of the arrests. “I think that the government should exert pressure and show our position that this is totally unacceptable.”

Those arrested are trustees of a relief fund established in 2019 to help democracy activists in Hong Kong fight prosecution for their role in pro-democracy protests in the region. Their fund, the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, closed in 2021. The group members were reportedly released on bail.

Since the 2019 democracy protests were trampled by Hong Kong authorities, the region’s legislature has been stuffed with pro-Beijing lawmakers and the media has been decimated by government attacks on free speech. Meanwhile, pro-democracy activists have been rounded up by police.

In 2020, Canada suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and stopped sending sensitive military items to the city. But despite requests by activist and lawmakers in Canada, Ottawa has stopped short of sanctions on any Hong Kong officials.

Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Jason Kung said the government is “deeply concerned” about Ho’s arrest and “continue” to assist her through consular services.

Lit said in the wake of the attacks on Hong Kong’s freedoms (which were supposed to remain untouched according to the Sino-British Joint Declaration that was the blueprint for the U.K.’s handing over of the region to mainland China in 1997), sanctions on government officials aren’t enough.

She said those complicit in the crushing of civil rights in the city must also pay — and that includes any judges handing down sentences to democracy activists based on politics rather than the law.

“These judges should be sanctioned,” Lit said.

A former chief justice of Canada’s Supreme Court, Beverley McLachlin, is currently a judge on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong also said in an email Canada needs to apply Magnitsky sanctions, which can include targeted asset freezes and visa bans, against Hong Kong officials complicit in rights violations. Chong said the arrest of Ho and her compatriots is a violation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

Cheuk Kwan of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China said the arrests show the term of incoming Hong Kong chief executive, John Lee, will mean more attacks on freedom. Lee was elected Sunday by a committee stacked with Chinese Communist Party supporters vetted by Beijing — he was the sole candidate.

“It is not surprising given what China has been doing in Hong Kong … arresting people on actions that were lawful at that time,” Kwan said.

Kwan said he has no faith the justice system in Hong Kong will prevail, calling it corrupted. He said raising money for people facing charges related to the democracy protests was completely legal when Ho and others ran the fund.

Ho, who was born in Hong Kong but partially grew up in Montreal, is an activist and singer whose causes include LGBTQ rights in Hong Kong. She was also arrested last December for her involvement in a pro-democracy publication.

Previously she testified at the United Nations Human Rights Council about violations in Hong Kong. Since the Beijing-backed government of the region began its attacks on freedom, many have fled the city — once a considered a precious gem of Asia, but those days are gone, Kwan said.

He said, while those like Ho put themselves on the line in the name of freedom, there’s a sad reality to confront.

“My only question is; is there a future worth fighting for in Hong Kong?” he said. “It’s quite depressing.”

With files from the Associated Press

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