British human rights campaigner Benedict Rogers | Courtesy photo
A Catholic activist insisted on Monday that his UK-based human rights monitoring group would not be silenced after Hong Kong police threatened him with three years in jail.
Benedict Rogers spoke out on March 14 after receiving a formal warning from the Hong Kong Police Force’s National Security Department regarding Hong Kong Watch, an NGO he founded in 2017 to track human rights, freedoms, and rule of law in the former British colony.
The police said that Hong Kong Watch could incur a fine of HK$100,000 (around $12,800) or its chief executive face three years in jail under the National Security Law that came into force in July 2020. They also demanded that the charity shut down its website.
“We will not be silenced by an authoritarian security apparatus which, through a mixture of senseless brutality and ineptitude, has triggered rapid mass migration out of the city and shut down civil society,” said Rogers, who converted to Catholicism in 2013 and lives in the UK.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said that the “unjustifiable action” against Hong Kong Watch was “clearly an attempt to silence those who stand up for human rights in Hong Kong.”
Sam Brownback, the former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, commented: “It is unbelievable the Chinese government would try to close such a reputable group. The tragic elimination of basic human rights in China and Hong Kong will inevitably lead to economic and security declines.”
David Alton, an independent member of the House of Lords, the upper house of the UK parliament, also expressed support for Rogers.
“This represents a significant escalation in the Chinese Communist Party regime’s attempts to silence dissent well beyond its borders and it signifies the attempted application of the abhorrent ‘extraterritoriality’ clause of the draconian National Security Law which Beijing imposed on Hong Kong,” he said.
Alton, a human rights campaigner and patron of Hong Kong Watch who was sanctioned by the Chinese government last year, added: “The result of that appalling law is the total destruction of Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy, and now the regime is using that law to try to undermine freedom around the world.”
“It is a direct assault on freedom of expression worldwide, and a shocking attempt to intimidate and threaten an organization which has been at the forefront of global advocacy for Hong Kong.”
Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong and another patron of Hong Kong Watch, said: “This is another disgraceful example of Mr. Putin’s friends in Beijing and their quislings in Hong Kong trying not only to stamp out freedom of expression and information in Hong Kong but also to internationalize their campaign against evidence, freedom, and honesty.”
Rogers was denied entry to Hong Kong in October 2017. The Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, an organization he co-founded, was among the U.K. entities hit by Chinese sanctions in March 2021.
The 47-year-old has frequently criticised the Vatican’s policy toward China.