Former Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio has introduced new legislation that would punish Chinese officials who abducted five Hong Kong booksellers in 2015 as basic freedoms continue to be suppressed within the country.
According to The Guardian, The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act was introduced by Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Rubio of Florida on Nov. 16.
The legislation requires the US president to identify those "responsible for the surveillance, abduction, detention, or forced confessions of certain booksellers and journalists in Hong Kong."
The outlet notes that last year, five booksellers based in Hong Kong who sold publications critical of the Chinese leadership were detained by Chinese authorities and held incommunicado for months, with two abducted from Thailand and Hong Kong. According to the International Business Times, one of the Hong Kong booksellers who went missing suddenly appeared on Chinese state TV in January, tearfully confessing to fleeing justice after killing a student in a hit-and-run incident.
The legislation, which has not yet been enacted, also says the government would then freeze their assets in the country and deny them entry into the US. The bill would also require the US secretary of state to issue a yearly report on Hong Kong amid the leadership's continued assault on human rights.
"China's assault on democratic institutions and human rights is of central importance to the people of Hong Kong and to its status as a free market, economic powerhouse and hub for international trade and investment," Rubio, who is co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said in a statement.
If passed, the legislation "would renew the United States' historical commitment to freedom and democracy in Hong Kong at a time when its autonomy is increasingly under assault," according to a statement
Quartz reports that the legislation came after Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong visited Capitol Hill where he urged president-elect Donald Trump to "fully support human rights in Hong Kong." The 20-year-old Christian activist is one of the most prominent student leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, which protested a ruling by a committee of Chinese officials that reneged on previous promises of universal suffrage.
"The importance of this legislation was again impressed upon me today after meeting with pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, who became the face of the Umbrella Movement for many in late 2014," said Rubio. "Joshua is an impressive and thoughtful young man who, along with his fellow activists, represents the future of Hong Kong - a future that must not go the way of Beijing's failed authoritarianism and one-party rule."
He added, "It is critical in the days ahead that the democratic aspirations of the people of Hong Kong be a vital U.S. interest and foreign policy priority. The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act reaffirms America's support of the people of Hong Kong as they seek to oppose Beijing's efforts to erode democratic institutions."
According to Quartz, Wong wrote on Facebook that Rubio, a Cuban-American, encouraged Hong Kongers not to retreat in the face of the communist regime and told Wong that "time is on your side."
The current legislative session is almost over, making it unlikely the bill will be passed.