Australian groups have joined a chorus of global condemnation at the Hong Kong police’s arrest of 15 high profile pro-democracy activists on April 18.
The arrests were in response to charges of “illegal assembly” during the 2019 protests, which attracted millions of participants and continued for several months.
The recent arrests have reignited discussion and garnered interest from Australian based organisations.
Pauline Wright, president of the Australian Law Council told The Epoch Times via email that there was significant concern among the international legal community that the rights to “peaceful protest, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression have been eroded in Hong Kong.”
She said the arrests followed comments last week by Luo Huining, a senior Chinese Community Party member and representative in Hong Kong, calling urgently for the reintroduction of the National Security Bill from 2003.
The National Security Bill sparked protests numbering over 500,000 when it was introduced, particularly Article 23. There were fears the bill compromised civil liberties in Hong Kong, similar to the recent extradition treaty from 2019.
Wright is concerned that the recent arrests of activists are symptoms of an escalating crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
“Despite the focus of the international community on the COVID-19 pandemic, developments such as these must not go unnoticed,” she said.
Lin Bin, a Sydney-based Chinese-language community radio commentator, told The Epoch Times via email he was very concerned about the arrests, saying such actions never occurred when Hong Kong was under British control.
He believed mainland Chinese authorities are actively pursuing different means to expand control over Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong may be [turned into] a city of mainland China. No one has the right to say something different from the authorities,” he said.
Locally, Bin said he also believed the Chinese regime was active in Australia saying, “We can tell there is interference in Australia. For example, the Hong Kong students who studied in Queensland faced attack, suppression, and intimidation from the other side.”
Bin is referring to an incident at the University of Queensland in August 2019 where pro-Beijing supporters disrupted a peaceful student gathering to support Hong Kong’s anti-extradition bill.
Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne released a statement April 19 condemning the arrests.
“Actions that undermine stability are never acceptable, but to do so during a crisis (COVID-19) of this magnitude erodes goodwill and trust,” she said.
“The rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are enshrined in the Basic Law for all people of Hong Kong.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement on April 18 saying, “Beijing and its representatives in Hong Kong continue to take actions inconsistent with commitments made under the Sino-British Joint Declaration that include transparency.”
The Hong Kong rallies received global media attention and were sparked by the attempted passage of an extradition bill by the Hong Kong legislature.
The extradition bill would have allowed criminals arrested in Hong Kong to be extradited and face trial in Mainland China.
There were concerns the law would be exploited to extradite human rights activists or political dissidents to China.