Hong Kong police arrest five for helping exiled activists

Arrests appear linked to warrants issued for eight prominent overseas activists
By Jojo Man and Amelia Loi for RFA Cantonese
2023.07.06
Hong Kong police arrest five for helping exiled activists Hong Kong national security police officers escort political activist Ivan Lam after arresting him on charges of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces, days after the police issued arrest warrants and bounties for eight overseas activists in Hong Kong, July 5, 2023. Hong Kong police on Thursday arrested a former leader of a pro-democracy party they said had "colluded with foreign forces to endanger national security," bringing the total number of arrests under the national security law this week to five.
Credit: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Hong Kong police on Thursday arrested a former leader of a pro-democracy party they said had "colluded with foreign forces to endanger national security," bringing the total number of arrests under the national security law this week to five, government broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong reported.

Police arrested Calvin Chu, 24, a former standing committee member of Demosisto, which was founded by U.K.-based former student protest leader and lawmaker Nathan Law, who had a HK$1 million bounty placed on his head earlier this week, the station said.

Police had earlier arrested four men on the same charges, they said in a statement on Wednesday.

Commentators said the five arrests are directly connected to the issuing of warrants for Law and seven other prominent overseas activists earlier this week.

According to a report in the Chinese-language Ming Pao newspaper, the four stand accused of funding Law's activities via a pro-democracy app call Punish MEE, which was originally designed to give money to businesses that openly supported the 2019 pro-democracy protests, known as the "yellow economic circle." 

While police didn't name him in their statement about the four arrests, multiple media reports said one of the four arrested on Wednesday was former Demosisto Chairman Ivan Lam.

According to the Ming Pao, the four arrestees including Lam stand accused of helping to fund Law's activities in the United Kingdom via the Punish MEE app. Chu is described in the report as "an employee" of the app.

Trying to 'scare people'

Chu's arrest brings to five the number of people arrested this week on suspicion of “conspiracy to collude with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security” and of “conspiracy to commit an act or acts with seditious intention.”

The arrests are part of an attempt to create a chilling effect among overseas activists lobbying for sanctions and other measures in response to the current crackdown in Hong Kong, said current affairs commentator Sang Pu.

"If they keep arresting people in Hong Kong, that's going to scare people overseas," Sang said. "That's their aim."

ENG_CHN_HKNatSec_07062023_02.jpg
Material in boxes, collected as evidence are loaded to a truck following the arrest of four men on charges of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces in Hong Kong, July 5, 2023. Credit: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

"They may even bring in a crowdfunding law making it illegal to donate to anyone raising funds [for overseas activism]," he said. "It's about frightening people and cutting off the flow of funding."

National security police on Monday issued arrest warrants for eight Hong Kong activists in exile, offering a HK$1 million bounty per person for information leading to their arrest and prosecution, sparking international criticism of the authorities' attempts at "long-arm" law enforcement overseas.

Cracking down

Hong Kong's three-year-old national security law bans public criticism of the authorities and peaceful political opposition, and applies to speech or acts committed by people of any nationality, anywhere in the world.

"The arrested persons were suspected of receiving funds from operating companies, social media platforms and mobile applications to support people who have fled overseas and continue to engage in activities that endanger national security," the police said in a July 5 statement that didn't name anyone.

"They were also suspected of repeatedly publishing posts with seditious intention on social media platforms, including content which provoked hatred towards the Central Authorities and the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and advocated Hong Kong independence," it said.

Police searched the arrestees' homes and confiscated documents and communications devices, it said, adding that further arrests could be made.

The statement warned members of the public that they could go to jail for helping people deemed to have colluded with "external elements to endanger national security."

So far, more than 260 people have now been arrested under the national security law, including dozens of former opposition lawmakers and political activists and senior journalists including pro-democracy media magnate Jimmy Lai, who is a British citizen.

An estimated 10,000 have been prosecuted for "rioting" or public order offenses in the wake of the 2019 protest movement, which Beijing views as an attempt by "hostile foreign forces" to foment a "color revolution" in Hong Kong.

British response

Meanwhile, calls are growing for the British government to come up with a more robust response to China's attempts to enforce its laws on foreign soil.

U.K.-based activist Finn Lau, who was among the eight listed as wanted by national security police on Monday, called for immediate meetings with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Home Secretary Suella Braverman to discuss potential threats to the safety of Hong Kongers in the U.K. from agents and supporters of the Chinese state.

"The U.K. government should ensure that if anyone attempts to kidnap anyone due to the bounties or the #NationalSecurityLaw, they should be tried and prosecuted on British soil," Lau told a news conference in London on Wednesday.

He also called for a ban on British judges serving in Hong Kong's judiciary.

Veteran trade unionist Mung Siu-tat, also known as Christopher Mung, said there are now concerns that the wanted list has ushered in an intensification of the crackdown, with many more arrests to follow.

"Where is the crime in supporting one's own ideas through running a business?" Mung said. "Anyone doing this will now be suppressed, or arrested."

"Those warrants weren't just about putting pressure on overseas activists -- they will also lead to more intense daily suppression and arrests in Hong Kong itself," he said.

Lau said there is little he can do to protect himself beyond hoping that he will be protected by being on British soil.

"I will try not to worry too much, and won't restrict myself -- I'll do more," he said. "I'll keep going despite the personal danger."

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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