Zein Almoghraby, Director of International Programs Testimony at the SDIR Committee on the grave human rights challenges faced in Hong Kong

In a world where the truth is often silenced, the testimony of Zein Almoghraby, Director of International Programs at Journalists for Human Rights, stands as a beacon of hope and a call to action. Addressing the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, Almoghraby shared insights from JHR’s 20-year commitment to defending human rights against oppressive regimes. Highlighting the repressive tactics of the Chinese government, both within its borders and across the Indo-Pacific, Almoghraby’s words painted a vivid picture of the struggle for freedom of speech and democracy. He spotlighted the dire situation in Hong Kong, underscored by the conviction of Jimmy Lai, to illustrate the broader implications of China’s authoritarian grip.
Below is an excerpt that captures the essence of his powerful message:

“Honorable Members of the subcommittee on the International human rights and colleagues, good afternoon.
I am presenting this testimony on behalf of my organization, Journalists for Human Rights based on our 20-year global record of defending human rights in the most difficult and challenging environments, working with courageous journalists and civic actors to stand against oppression, marginalization, instability, and, most importantly, to hold governments to account.

At JHR, we have been dealing with various oppressive power structures and the mechanisms that enable their tactics to silence pro-human rights and democratic voices. In the context of today’s testimony, we have monitored the actions of the government of China in mainland China, in the Special Administrative Regions (SAR) and in neighbouring countries across the Indo-Pacific. Actions within a holistic strategy to silence opposing voices, crush democratic spaces and to manipulate facts and truths.

If the collapse of the Soviet Union has provided authoritarian regimes in the late 80s and early 90s with lessons on what not to do, the government of China has provided these authoritarian regimes with a blueprint/a road map of what to do to hold on to power regardless of any democratic considerations.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party has maintained a constant effort to balance regime stability against reform priorities. This includes the complete control of media and communication channels within both the mainland and SARs, in particular in Hong Kong, which should possess a higher degree of autonomy from China’s central government.

Since 1997, Hong Kong has experienced the gradual downfall of freedoms, which were once protected under the “One Country, Two Systems” principle that guaranteed a higher degree of autonomy, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Guarantees that were not respected with the introduction of the National Security Law in 2020. Since the law came into force, hundreds of protestors, activists and former opposition lawmakers have been arrested, many news outlets have been shut down, and pro-democracy leading figures continue to be prosecuted.

Jimmy Lai’s conviction is another milestone towards fully silencing Hong Kong. “Not guilty” was his answer to his prosecutors. No one is guilty for being a journalist.

Centralized dictatorships directly harm journalists with impunity, through reputational, physical and monetary damage. They eliminate democratic spaces through controlling communication channels and monopolizing information.

We must draw our attention to the fact that a defining characteristic of such regimes is to spill over their national borders into neighbouring countries and beyond; they are threatened by human rights and democracy. They implement their harmful ways against freedom of speech abroad as they do at home.

China aims to heavily influence the international information environment. This includes propaganda, disinformation, misinformation, and censorship, with a massive annual budget.

In the Indo-Pacific region, China’s information manipulation efforts aim to increase positive perceptions of the Chinese Communist Party while shaping narratives and influencing political outcomes. This strategy raises concerns about democratic integrity, societal stability, and the potential for increased conflict and violence. Additionally, the legitimacy of the coming 2024 and 2025 elections in the Indo-Pacific is at risk. Coordinated misinformation campaigns by players such as China undermine confidence in these democratic processes.

Honorable members and human rights advocates,

It is critical for the government of Canada to stand for human rights and democracy in the Indo-Pacific region as it should elsewhere. It is crucial to support pro-human rights, non-state actors, in particular courageous journalists such as Jimmy Lai and other media professionals, to promote and protect necessary freedoms not only because it is the right thing to do but also to ensure the stability in a region of the world that is important to our country and to defend principles for which Canada stands for.

Thank you,”

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