11 Hong Kongers Arrested for Allegedly Aiding Hong Kong 12 Escape

National security police arrested 11 people in Hong Kong on Thursday, including a prominent pro-democracy lawyer and district councillor, for allegedly aiding the attempt by 12 Hong Kongers to escape the city by sea for Taiwan last year.

The arrests came a week after a massive sweep by national security police that saw 53 people arrested for “subversion”, including every pro-democracy primary candidate for the postponed 2020 Legislative Council election.

Hong Kong Free Press reported on the details of those arrested:

Among those rounded up was District Councillor Daniel Wong Kwok-tung. Officers arrived at his house at 6:10 am in the morning, according to his Facebook page. Wong is a lawyer and also the founder of Aegis, a pro-democracy restaurant in Taipei, Taiwan, known to employ Hongkongers.

The mother of documentary filmmaker Willis Ho was also arrested Monday morning at 6:15 am and taken to Tsuen Wan police station, according to her Facebook page. The arrest was made in relation to the case of the 12 Hong Kong fugitives, Ho’s statement read.

TVB reported that a secondary school student was also detained. [Source]

While their arrests were made by national security police, it is unclear whether any of the 11 were arrested for crimes under the National Security Law.

After being detained for months without trial in Shenzhen, 10 of the 12 Hong Kongers who were intercepted by boat fleeing the city were tried and sentenced in December 2020 to three years in jail for illegally crossing the border. The other two, who are underaged, were repatriated to Hong Kong, where they face trial.

Authorities in Hong Kong and on the mainland have clamped down hard against figures who assisted the 12 in their escape attempt and subsequent trial. Last week, two mainland human rights lawyers who tried to represent the 12 detainees in Shenzhen, Lu Siwei and Ren Quanniu, were told that they faced debarment for “inappropriate speech online” that “seriously harmed the image of the lawyer profession.”

On Thursday, it was reported that Lu had his license suspended. South China Morning Post’s Natalie Wong reported that Lu was subsequently accused of “endangering national security” for tweeting about the 12 detainees:

Officials from the Sichuan provincial Department of Justice made the allegation against human rights lawyer Lu Siwei on Wednesday following the conclusion of appeal proceedings, in which he defended his handling of the controversial case. Lu had earlier been told by the authorities that his licence could be revoked as “administrative punishment”.

Diplomats were barred from attending the judicial hearing in the provincial capital Chengdu and human rights activists accompanying the outspoken lawyer were taken away by police for unspecified reasons.

[…] According to a source, after the proceedings the judicial authorities accused Lu of “endangering national security” and asked him to sign a 49-page document, which listed articles he had tweeted or shared over the plight of the Hong Kong detainees, as evidence for revoking his licence.

Lu and his lawyer argued the content on Twitter should not be deemed valid evidence as the platform’s servers were located in the United States, and insisted that freedom of speech on social media should be protected in China. [Source]

In Hong Kong, 87 arrests have been made in connection with National Security offenses since the law was enacted in July 2020, including one American citizen. Amid the growing number of arrests, the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong has begun listing the names and charges against arrestees on its website.

A steady stream of politically charged cases in Hong Kong has captured the city’s attention this week. Following news reports that several Hong Kong internet service providers (ISPs) were blocking access to website hkchronicles.com, on Thursday, one ISP admitted to blocking the website at the request of national security police. 

In an article reporting on the escalating digital crackdown in Hong Kong, The Washington Post’s Shibani Mahtani broke news that Hong Kong police have begun sending mobile devices seized from arrestees to mainland China, where authorities with sophisticated data-extraction technology have been assisting the city’s police in breaking into their devices:

Hong Kong police have begun sending devices seized from arrested people to mainland China, where authorities with sophisticated data-extraction technology are using the information from those devices to assist in investigations, according to two people familiar with the arrangement who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their safety.

[…] In emailed comments to The Washington Post, a Hong Kong police spokesman said the force would not comment on specific cases but pointed out that the national security law allows police to unilaterally disable access to online content. Police would not disclose details of investigations, he added.

A day after The Post published this report, police spokesman Kwok Ka-chuen denied that seized devices were sent to mainland China. [Source]

In a separate case on Thursday, freelance investigative reporter Bao Choy, who was arrested for “making false statements” while searching the city’s vehicle license plate database as part of an investigation into the July 21, 2019 triad attack on subway commuters, pleaded not guilty at a court hearing. CDT wrote about her arrest for her work on the international award-winning documentary episode about the 7.21 incident, which was aired by public broadcaster RTHK. The 2020 Congressional-Executive Commission report on China, released today, highlighted the 7.21 incident as an example of “a pattern of selective enforcement” by the government when it came to addressing misconduct by the police and people hostile to protestors. Choy has since been suspended by RTHK, which has been under close scrutiny from the government for its news and entertainment coverage.

Journalists in the city have decried the charges against Choy as an attack on press freedom. South China Morning Post’s Chris Lau reported that Choy, speaking outside the court, criticized RTHK’s decision to suspend her for work she had done for the broadcaster:

Before leaving the court, Choy said she was disappointed in RTHK, which had suspended her from work indefinitely and not offered to help cover her legal fees.

“Having worked for RTHK for so many years, I understand that the RTHK is a government department. But at the same time, it is also a media organisation and it is my wish that it would fulfil its moral duties as other media organisations would have,” she said.

“For me, it has been a double punishment. I started out doing my reporting based on my wish to find out as close to the truth as possible. But I was arrested and charged doing what a journalist does and then the role I most cherished has been suspended, it was not an easy thing for me.” [Source]


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