Senators call on Biden to sanction Beijing over closure of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily

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A bipartisan group of senators is calling on President Biden to impose sanctions on the Chinese Communist Party for shutting down the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, a move that has added to ongoing concern over free speech rollbacks in the semi-autonomous territory. 

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), ranking member of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, and committee colleague Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), urged in a letter to the president on Friday to sanction individuals and entities involved in the newspaper’s forced closure.

The senators cite section 5 of the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, signed into law in July 2020, with the authority to sanction “any foreign person, including foreign businesses, that are ‘materially contributing’ to the ‘inability of the people of Hong Kong to enjoy the freedom of assembly, speech, press, or independent rule of law,’” they wrote. 

They further call for sanctions on people and entities involved in the imprisonment of Jimmy Lai, founder of the Apple Daily, who was sentenced in April to more than a year in jail under China’s draconian national security law.

The law punishes vague crimes of secession, subversion and terrorism and has been criticized as being used to round up pro-democracy activists and protesters.

“It seems very likely that the breathtaking crackdown on Jimmy Lai and Apple Daily involves numerous foreign persons to whom Section 5 of the Hong Kong Autonomy Act applies. We urge your administration to comprehensively enforce the Hong Kong Autonomy Act in the immediate wake of the injustice imposed upon Jimmy Lai and the forced closure of Apple Daily,” the senators wrote. 

The U.S. has sanctioned dozens of Chinese individuals under the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, including the head of Hong Kong’s government, chief executive Carrie Lam. She was designated in August for supporting and carrying out implementation of the national security law.

Individuals sanctioned under the Hong Kong Autonomy Act have any assets in the U.S. frozen, and Americans are prohibited from engaging in transactions with blacklisted persons. 

The tabloid-style Apple Daily sold out its last edition on Thursday, after being forced to close its offices when Hong Kong police reportedly froze $2.3 million of its assets, searched its offices and, last week, arrested five of its top editors and executives.

The newspaper has garnered a reputation for being a pro-democracy outlet critical of the Chinese Communist Party’s growing control over Hong Kong. The city’s autonomy and democratic freedoms have been increasingly rolled back through policy changes instituted by Beijing. 

Chinese officials have described those arrested from the Apple Daily and the newspaper itself as a criminal enterprise that is suspected of endangering national security.

Biden issued a lengthy statement on Thursday demanding Beijing authorities release detained journalists and executives and criticized the Chinese government for “wielding its power to suppress independent media and silence dissenting views.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Friday rejected Biden’s remarks, saying “there is not a shred of truth” and criticized the U.S. for “interfering” in what it views as China’s internal affairs with Hong Kong. 

Tags Apple Daily Chris Van Hollen Hong Kong Hong Kong national security law Joe Biden Pat Toomey Press freedom sanctions

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