Police in Hong Kong have offered bounties for information leading to the arrest of five activists living overseas, expanding a crackdown on those involved in the city’s once vibrant pro-democracy protest movement under a harsh national security law.
Law enforcement authorities on Thursday offered rewards of 1 Million Hong Kong dollars ($128,000) for each of the five activists, who live in countries including the United States and the United Kingdom.
“They all betrayed their own country and betrayed Hong Kong,” Steve Li, chief superintendent of the police national security department, said in a news conference. “After they fled overseas, they continued to engage in activities endangering national security.”
The move, characterised by the US and the UK as an effort to restrict democracy, added to a list of eight activists who authorities named as fugitives in July under a national security law imposed by Beijing.
The five activists are named as Simon Cheng, Frances Hui, Joey Siu, Johnny Fok and Tony Choi. Many prominent members of the 2019 protest movement moved overseas when the national security law was introduced the following year, anticipating harsh measures from authorities.
“This is a threat to our democracy and fundamental human rights,” UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said in response to the announcement, adding that he had instructed officials in Hong Kong, Beijing, and London to “raise this issue as a matter of urgency”.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller condemned the “egregious actions taken by Hong Kong authorities in announcing national security law changes and a new bounty list targeting democracy advocates overseas.”
“That shows blatant disregard for international norms for democracy and human rights,” he said. “Hong Kong authorities have no jurisdiction within United States borders where the advocates for democracy and freedom will continue to enjoy their constitutionally guaranteed freedom and rights.”
Sarah Brooks, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for Greater China, said the tactic of placing bounties on activists appeared to be emerging as a method of choice to silence dissent. Brooks called for authorities to withdraw them.
“The placement of a bounty under the guise of national security charges is an act of intimidation that transcends borders,” she said in a statement.
More about the security law imposed by the Chinese government in Hong Kong which focuses on the overseas settled activists
The sweeping new national security law that China imposed on Hong Kong, aimed at stamping out opposition to the ruling Communist Party in the former British colony, is as “devastating” as some critics feared, a human-rights activist revealed.
The law targets protesters with harsh penalties, including life imprisonment.
The security law, which includes 66 articles and more than 7,000 words, takes direct aim at the spirited antigovernment protests that have convulsed Hong Kong over the past year, prescribing harsh penalties for the tactics commonly used by demonstrators.
As they led a monthslong campaign last year to resist what they called Beijing’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s civil liberties, protesters worked to disrupt the city’s reputation for efficiency and orderliness. Some groups attacked police stations, vandalized shops and restaurants and briefly paralyzed the airport.
“This law is to punish a tiny number of criminals who seriously endanger national security — a sharp sword hanging high over their heads that will serve as a deterrent against external forces meddling in Hong Kong,” Zhang Xiaoming, a deputy director of the central Chinese government office for Hong Kong, said at a news conference in Beijing.
Under the new law, damaging government buildings would be considered an act of subversion punishable by life imprisonment in “grave” cases. Sabotaging transport would be deemed a terrorist activity punishable by life in prison if it harms other people or causes significant damage to public or private property.
The four major offences in the law — separatism, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign countries — are ambiguously worded and give the authorities extensive power to target activists who criticise the party, activists say.
Beijing now has broad authority to intervene in Hong Kong’s legal system
Under the security law, however, Beijing has given itself wide latitude to interfere in Hong Kong’s legal affairs, insulated from scrutiny by local courts and lawmakers. The legislation will install in Hong Kong a formidable network of security forces answering to Beijing.
They include a national security committee in the Hong Kong government and a national security office made up of mainland Chinese officers stationed in Hong Kong and handling cases according to mainland Chinese law.
Under the legislation, the central government in Beijing can intervene in national security cases, especially during crises or if a case is deemed “complex.” The law opens the way for defendants in important cases to stand trial before courts in mainland China, where convictions are usually assured and penalties are often harsh. Trials involving state secrets could be closed to the news media and the public.
“As a national security suspect, you can be locked up for as long as six months incommunicado, subject to torture, coerced confession, no access to counsel or family or friends, before the police decide whether to process you for a crime,” said Mr. Cohen, the law professor, speaking about practices common in mainland China.