The US Senate unanimously passed a bill to defend human rights in Hong Kong - a powerful act of defiance against China as pro-democracy protests rage

hong kong protestsA demonstrator throws a petrol bomb at police near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Kowloon district on Nov. 18, 2019.Kyodo News via Getty Images
  • The US Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill to protect human rights in Hong Kong as protests continue to rage in the semiautonomous Chinese city. 
  • The legislation, titled the "Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, would essentially require the State Department to ensure that the city's "One County, Two Systems" agreement with China is upheld each year in order for the government to continue to afford Hong Kong with special trade status. 
  • The bill would also consider sanctions against people involved in human rights abuses against Hong Kong citizens, and would ensure visa protections for protesters in the US. 
  • The bill's passage comes at a time when protests in Hong Kong that have continued for six months approach a fever pitch. 
  • Last week, at several university campuses, police fired tear gas and blue dye at protesters who launched bows and arrows and Molotov cocktails. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The US Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill to protect human rights in Hong Kong as protests continued to rage in the semiautonomous Chinese city. 

The legislation, titled the "Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019," would essentially require the State Department to ensure that the city's "One County, Two Systems" agreement with China is upheld each year in order for the government to continue to afford Hong Kong with special trade status. 

The bill would also consider sanctions against people involved in human rights abuses against Hong Kong citizens, and would ensure visa protections for protesters in the US. 

The Senate version of the legislation was introduced in May by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who has been a vocal critic of Chinese policy and human rights abuses. The House also unanimously passed their own version of the bill, which was introduced by Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey. 

The two chambers now have to reconcile differences before the legislation will be sent to President Donald Trump for passage. 

"The people of Hong Kong see what's coming - they see the steady effort to erode the autonomy and their freedoms," said Rubio.

"We have sent a message to President Xi [Jinping] - your suppression of freedom, whether in Hong Kong, in northwest China or in anywhere else, will not stand," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said. 

"You cannot be a great leader - and you cannot be a great country - when you oppose freedom, and when you are so brutal to the people of Hong Kong, young and old, who are protesting."

China's foreign ministry condemned the bill and vowed to protect its national security. 

Protests are reaching a fever pitch

hong kong protestsAnthony Kwan/Getty Images

Protests in Hong Kong began in June against a bill that would have allowed for the extradition of residents to China to face trial. But in the six months since protests erupted, they have morphed into a fight against Chinese encroachment and police brutality that continues to become more violent. 

Last week, protesters clashed with police at several university campuses. Hong Kong Polytechnic University, located in Hung Hom, became a battleground for pro-democracy protesters against riot police, who surrounded the perimeter and launched tear gas and water cannons filled with blue liquid at students taking refuge on campus. 

Protesters responded by firing Molotov cocktails and other makeshift weapons at police. 

In a statement, university authorities said they were "gravely concerned that the spiraling radical illicit activities will cause not only a tremendous safety threat on campus, but also class suspension over an indefinite period of time."

Police on Sunday evening threatened to arrest protesters for rioting, an offense which carries up to 10 years in prison. By Monday morning, police stormed the campus and threatened to use live rounds if protesters did not "stop assaulting the police using cars, gas bombs and bows and arrows."

By Monday morning, video appeared to show protesters leaving the campus en masse, though some students tried to evade police and escape the burning campus by scaling a nearby bridge and arranging with those on the outside to drive away on a motorcycle.

As of Tuesday evening, it was believed that around 100 or more students were still trapped inside the university

A protester actively working on the frontlines who was at Polytechnic University during the initial stages of the clashes told Business Insider that protesters are exhausted but will continue to turn out to fight. 

"We know that if we don't fight now, we will lose completely. Everyone is exhausted, mentally, physically. But I think the spirit is still there and we know that we need to keep fighting. There's no other choice. "

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