Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent a warning to the Chinese government—don’t mess with the Hong Kong protesters.

McConnell sent out his warning in a tweet on Monday, “The people of Hong Kong are bravely standing up to the Chinese communist party as Beijing tries to encroach on their autonomy and freedom,” he said. “Any violent crackdown would be completely unacceptable. As I have said on the Senate floor: The world is watching.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, on April 9, 2019. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo, File)

The peaceful protests began in April, over a controversial bill that would allow the extradition of Hong Kong citizens to China. The bill has faced massive opposition, and Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam was forced, under public pressure, to “indefinitely suspend” it. The extradition law would have made it possible to send a person suspected of committing a crime to mainland China for trial, and protesters not trusting the government, want the law to be completely withdrawn. Protests have continued, with the call for Carrie Lam to resign.

“We know that China is very effective at crafting reasonably justified criminal offenses against individuals who it views as being critical of the state,” Hong Kong University law lecturer Sharron Fast said, as reported by SBS.

“We do not have assurances on how Hong Kong courts will deal with the political motivations of Beijing on these issues,” she added.

“China has a record of prosecuting individuals for speaking out on matters such as independence or criticizing the communist party. So it’s a definite risk for people in Hong Kong to be able to speak freely,” she said.

Demonstrators gather during a protest at Hong Kong International Airport, July 26, 2019. Hong Kong residents have been protesting for two months to call for democratic reforms and condemn police violence. (Vincent Yu/AP)

A peaceful sit-in protest began at Hong Kong airport on Friday, in response to police brutality against protesters at a subway station on Sunday night, where they fired tear gas and rubber bullets. Forty-five people were hospitalized, the youngest just 8. One woman was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet, and doctors expect she will lose the eye.

Man-Kei Tam, the director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said in a statement, “Hong Kong police have once again used tear gas and rubber bullets in a way that have fallen short of international standards. Firing at retreating protesters in confined areas where they had little time to leave goes against the purported objective of dispersing a crowd. …. The Hong Kong police have once again demonstrated how not to police a protest. … Law enforcement officials must be able to carry out their duty to protect the public. However, violence directed at police does not give officers a green light to operate outside of international policing standards.”

“Any heavy-handed policing approach will only increase tension and provoke hostility, leading to the overall escalation of the situation,” he added.

McConnell addressed the issue on the Senate floor in July, “Hong Kong’s people, emboldened by this rare victory over Beijing’s creeping influence, have continued to exercise their freedom of assembly to reclaim the rights, privileges, and autonomy slowly sliced away in recent years by … [China],” he said.

“Protests continue, and with them, countervailing pressures from authorities beholden to Beijing. Increasingly brutal police tactics and pro-mainland vigilantes are drawing blood in an effort to intimidate Hong Kongers back into submission,” he continued.

China is laying some of the blame at the feet of the United States. “The U.S. has been making various Hong Kong-related accusations that are wanton, fact-distorting, and inflammatory,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying. “Some senior U.S. politicians and diplomatic officials met and engaged with anti-China rabble-rousers in Hong Kong, criticized China unreasonably, propped up violent and illegal activities, and undermined Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability,” reported the National Review.

A White House spokesman said, “The United States urges all sides to refrain from violence.”

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