Hong Kong Makes First Arrests Under Article 23 National Security Law

On Tuesday, Hong Kong police made their first arrests under the city’s new homegrown national security law known as Article 23. The law was fast-tracked under pressure from Beijing and unanimously passed in March after only 11 days of debate. Critics have feared it will be used to further restrict free expression and other civil liberties on top of the existing National Security Law imposed by Beijing in 2020. Kelly Ho from Hong Kong Free Press reported on six people now arrested for alleged sedition under the new law:

Hong Kong rights activist Chow Hang-tung was among six people arrested by national security police on Tuesday, marking the first apprehensions under the city’s new security law, which was enacted in March. Five women and one man have been detained on suspicion of acting with seditious intention, police said.

According to the police, one of the arrestees was a woman in custody, who was alleged to have continuously published anonymous “seditious” posts on an social media page with the help of the other five.

The posts were said to have made use of an “upcoming sensitive date” to incite hatred against the central and Hong Kong governments, as well as the Judiciary. Police also alleged that the posts intended to incite netizens to organise or participate in illegal activities at a later time.

Police searched the homes of five arrestees and seized items related to the case, including electronic devices that were suspected of having been used to publish the alleged posts. [Source]

The authorities did not specify the content of the posts nor the identity of the five other suspects, other than their ages of between 37 and 65. Local outlet Mingpao later reported that Chow Hang-tung’s mother; former HK Alliance standing committee member Lau Ka Yee (劉家儀); and former District Councillor Katrina Chan Kim Kam (陳劍琴) are three of the five others arrested. Nectar Gan and Chris Lau from CNN provided more context on the content of the posts and the “sensitive date” related to the arrests:

The statement did not state the upcoming sensitive date. However next Tuesday marks the anniversary of Beijing’s June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, an event that has been scrubbed from the record by Chinese authorities and can no longer be safely commemorated in Hong Kong.

Chow, a lawyer and one of the city’s most prominent pro-democracy activists, was previously twice jailed for holding unauthorized vigils to commemorate Beijing’s bloody military crackdown. She is currently in custody on a national security charge.

[Security chief Chris] Tang was asked by reporters if the authorities were referring to the June 4 commemoration in the statement announcing the latest arrests.

“The date itself is not important,” he replied. “The most important thing is that people who want to endanger national security use these topics to incite citizens’ hatred against the Central government, our government and our judiciary.” [Source]

The Hong Kong Democracy Council highlighted some of the photos that Chow posted to her Facebook page:

Chow was formerly one of the leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements, which organized annual vigils at Victoria Park to commemorate the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. The vigils were attended by tens of thousands of people, but authorities banned the event in 2020, citing COVID-19 restrictions, and detained those attempting to commemorate the date in subsequent years. In September 2021, the leaders were arrested on national security charges, and the group dissolved. Nonetheless, Chow remained defiant in her mitigation letter at her sentencing in December 2021, arguing that “the government’s blatant attempt at erasing history and suppressing activism must be resisted.”

The arrests this week drew criticism from human rights defenders. Maya Wang, China Director at Human Rights Watch, tweeted, “Ridiculous arrests in Hong Kong where the govt doesn’t dare to tell the world why they’re arresting these activists: for commemorating Beijing’s massacre of peaceful protesters 35 years ago. How fragile, how afraid are the Chinese + HK govts.” Benedict Rogers, co-founder and CEO of Hong Kong Watch, condemned the arrests and stated: “We should take seriously the plan of the Hong Kong authorities to criminalise perfectly acceptable and peaceful activities that are in line with international human rights law, and respond accordingly.” Hong Kong Watch also highlighted the first application of Article 23 back in March, whereby the law was applied retroactively:

On Monday, pro-democracy activist Ma Chun-man likely became the first Hong Konger to have the newly passed Safeguarding National Security Bill, enacted under Article 23 of the Basic Law and referred to as ‘Article 23’, applied retroactively to his sentence.

Mr Ma was convicted for “incitement of secession” under the National Security Law in 2021. Mr Ma was expected to be released on Monday, 48 hours after the new national security law was in effect. However, speaking to Mr Ma’s case, Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said, “It’s been made very clear that if a prisoner is serving a sentence in respect to his conviction of an offence endangering national security, the prisoner is not entitled to remission.” The loss of the previous one-third remission for the good behaviour of prisoners under Article 23 means that Mr Ma will spend at least 20 more months behind bars. 

This case also implies, and John Lee confirmed, that the Hong Kong authorities intend to apply Article 23 retroactively. The retroactive application of Article 23 will place existing political prisoners and others in Hong Kong who have peacefully exercised their rights and freedoms at heightened risk. [Source]

The maximum penalty for sedition under the new national security law was raised from two to seven years in prison. Overall, the law introduced 39 new national security crimes relating to treason, insurrection, espionage, sabotage, and external interference. In addition to now having retroactive application, the law also has extraterritorial effect, adding to fears about Chinese authorities’ engagement in transnational repression.

On Tuesday, Alexandra Stevenson at The New York Times described how doing business in Hong Kong increasingly comes with the political risk of upsetting Beijing, as a result of Article 23 and other national security legislation:

Chinese clients recently dropped one big Chicago law firm after it recused itself from a politically sensitive case. A former Wall Street banker was muzzled for writing a “Hong Kong is dead” column. And Google was effectively cornered into enforcing a ban on a popular protest anthem.

In all areas of life, Hong Kong is hewing closer to mainland China, blurring distinctions that once cemented the city’s status as mostly free from the politics of Beijing. Legal rulings echo the courts in mainland China. City regulations follow edicts in Beijing. Even government banners recall Chinese Communist Party slogans.

The city’s transformation is being driven by a national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 and additional legislation passed by Hong Kong lawmakers in March. Both have dealt a blow to the partial autonomy promised by China when it took possession of the city from Britain nearly three decades ago. [Source]

At The Globe and Mail, Robert Fife reported this week on efforts by Hong Kong police to surveil and intimidate targets in Canada:

In a February, 2024 recording of the telephone conversation provided to The Globe, an unnamed national-security department officer complains that the man is not “co-operating with us” and issues veiled threats: “How is your life? … You will have consequences.” The Globe is not identifying the individual whose family is at grave risk in Hong Kong.

When the man, now residing in Vancouver, said “I’ve never co-operated with you. I won’t co-operate with dogs,” the national-security officer replies, “We’ll definitely find you. We can find you by phone. Why wouldn’t we find you? Where could you hide?”

[…] Last year, Hong Kong Watch, a British-based group whose patrons include Chris Patten, the last governor of the former British territory, published a briefing on people from Hong Kong facing intimidation in Canada. The report included four case studies in which people active in the pro-democracy movement and the Hong Kong community said they were watched or threatened.

[…] In one case, a core member with the [pro-democracy New Hong Kong Culture Club (NHKCC)] received a message on the organization’s Telegram channel in February from an anonymous sender suggesting that she “have fun” on her planned trip to Japan and adding that she should “keep an eye on” her daughter. The report says the member was shocked by the information because her personal travel was not publicly disclosed information. [Source]


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