11 held in Hong Kong on suspicion of ‘assisting activists detained at sea’

14 January 2021, 12:14

Hong Kong
Hong Kong Crackdown. Picture: PA

The clampdown has intensified concerns that Beijing is asserting more control over the city.

Hong Kong police said they have arrested 11 people on suspicion of assisting offenders who are believed to be the 12 Hong Kong activists detained at sea by mainland Chinese authorities while attempting to flee the city last year.

District councillor and lawyer Daniel Wong Kwok-tung posted on his Facebook page early on Thursday that national security officers had arrived at his home. He was later taken to his office, where police conducted a search.

Mr Wong, a member of the Democratic Party, is known for providing legal assistance to hundreds of activists arrested during anti-government protests in 2019.

Police officers stand guard outside the office of district councillor and lawyer Daniel Wong Kwok-tung in Hong Kong
Police officers stand guard outside the office of district councillor and lawyer Daniel Wong Kwok-tung in Hong Kong (Vincent Yu/AP)

The fresh wave of arrests comes a week after 55 activists were apprehended in the largest move against Hong Kong’s democracy movement since Beijing imposed a new national security law last June to quell dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

The clampdown has intensified concerns that Beijing is asserting more control over the city and breaking its promise of Hong Kong maintaining separate civil rights and political systems for 50 years from the handover from Britain control in 1997.

Police said in an emailed statement that those arrested on Thursday were eight men and three women aged 18 to 72. Their identities were not revealed.

Local media reports said they are suspected of helping the 12 Hong Kong activists who were detained at sea by mainland Chinese authorities while attempting to sail to Taiwan in August. Some of the fugitives were wanted in Hong Kong for offences related to the 2019 protests.

Daniel Wong Kwok-tung, centre, meeting protesters at the Polytechnic University in November 2019
Mr Wong, centre, meeting protesters at the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong in November 2019 (Kin Cheung/AP)

Last month, 10 of the activists detained at sea were sentenced to prison in Shenzhen for illegally crossing the border, with sentences ranging between seven months to three years.

The two other detainees, who are minors, were handed over to Hong Kong and could face further charges in the city for absconding, authorities said.

Hong Kong has jailed several pro-democracy activists in recent months, including Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, for their involvement in the anti-government protests. Others have been charged under the national security law, including media tycoon and pro-democracy advocate Jimmy Lai.

The security law criminalises acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers to intervene in the city’s affairs. Serious offenders could face up to life imprisonment.

Last week, the foreign ministers of Australia, the US, the UK and Canada issued a joint statement expressing “serious concern” about the arrests. They said “it is clear that the national security law is being used to eliminate dissent and opposing political views”.

Meanwhile, a Hong Kong internet service provider said it had blocked access to a pro-democracy website to comply with the national security law.

The HKChronicles website
The HKChronicles website (AP)

Hong Kong Broadband Network said that it had disabled access to HKChronicles, a website which compiled information on “yellow” shops that supported the city’s pro-democracy movement and released personal information and pictures of police and pro-Beijing supporters during anti-government protests in 2019.

The chief editor of the site, Naomi Chan, said in a post last week that users in Hong Kong had reported the site as inaccessible. She accused telecoms companies such as SmarTone, China Mobile Hong Kong, PCCW and Hong Kong Broadband Network of blocking the website.

She advised Hongkongers to “make early preparations to counter future internet blockage at a larger scale, and to face the darkness before dawn”.

The move to block HKChronicles has prompted fears that internet freedoms in Hong Kong could be curtailed, akin to the “Great Firewall of China”, a system of internet censorship on the mainland which blocks foreign search engines and social media platforms like Google, Facebook and Twitter and scrubs the internet of keywords deemed sensitive by the Chinese government.

By Press Association