Eight people were arrested in Hong Kong on Dec. 7 for their involvement in a local university campus protest last month. The eight included three students and two district councilors from the pro-democracy camp.
News of the arrests first surfaced when Arthur Yeung, who was a candidate for district council elections in November last year, posted on his Facebook page that local police showed up at his home at 7 a.m. local time to arrest him, on suspicion of his role in a march at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) on Nov. 19. He said that his home was searched.
Yeung later updated his Facebook post, saying that he was taken to the police station in Tai Po district. Additionally, he was accused of taking part in an “illegal assembly” that day, but was not accused of more serious charges under the city’s national security law.
The Hong Kong police held a press conference on Monday afternoon, saying that eight men aged 16 to 34 had been arrested for taking part in an “unlawful assembly” at CUHK on Nov. 19. The police did not provide the names of eight individuals.
Among the eight arrested, three were students, but not from CUHK, police said. Those three were accused of “inciting others to commit secession” in violation of the national security law. The remaining five included two district councilors and an unknown number of social workers.
During the November elections last year, Yeung was a candidate representing the pro-democracy camp vying for a district council seat in the Wan Chai district. Yeung ultimately lost to the incumbent Paul Tse, a member of the pro-Beijing camp, by a margin of 234 votes. However, the broader pro-democracy camp scored a landslide victory in the elections, securing 392 out of the 452 district council seats.
District councillors Isaac Lee from the Sai Kung district, and Eason Chan from the Kwun Tong district, also confirmed their arrests on their Facebook pages on Monday.
Yeung, Lee, and Chan are all CUHK alumni; Lee graduated this fall.
The mass arrests come at a time when critics say the city’s basic freedoms are quickly evaporating since Beijing imposed a national security law late on June 30. Last week, an international outcry commenced after a Hong Kong court sentenced three pro-democracy activists, including Joshua Wong, to months-long imprisonment, and denied bail to Apple Daily founder and social activist Jimmy Lai, 73, over a fraud charge.
At the time, international rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called for Lai’s immediate release.
“At a time when the Chinese regime actively tries to restrict press freedom in Hong Kong, Jimmy Lai is the victim of judicial harassment which clearly aims to tarnish his image of a press freedom defender,” stated RSF’s East Asia Bureau head Cédric Alviani, in a Dec. 4 statement.
The national security law punishes vaguely-defined crimes that Beijing deems as succession, subversion, and collusion with foreign forces with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
At around noon on Nov. 19, about 90 graduating CUHK students marched on the school campus, displaying and shouting pro-democracy slogans, such as “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times” and “Five demands not one less.” Together, they also sang “Glory to Hong Kong,” the unofficial Hong Kong protest anthem. Many students wore Guy Fawkes masks while others carried black balloons.
Black is the preferred color for Hong Kong protesters after they started their pro-democracy movement in June last year. The movement subsided after Hong Kong was hit with the COVID-19 pandemic, and slowed further after Beijing imposed the national security law.
Two days after the law’s imposition, the Hong Kong government banned the popular protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times. ”
At 2:30 p.m. local time on Nov. 19, CUHK officials issued a statement, saying that it had called local police about the “unauthorized demonstration and procession” on the campus. They alleged that protesting students were “blocking campus traffic” and shouting “slogans about Hong Kong independence and the subversion of state power.”
In response to CUHK’s call, the Hong Kong government issued a statement later on the same day saying that the city’s national security department—a new agency established under the national security law—was carrying out investigations.
Currently, it is unclear what Yeung, Lee, and Chan did on Nov. 19 that prompted their arrests. Meanwhile, Lee posted a picture of himself in a graduation gown standing on CUHK’s No. 2 bridge, on his Facebook page on Nov. 19.
Accompanying his picture, Lee wrote that he just graduated from CUHK. He added that he answered a call to return to the university campus that day with some publicity materials. It is unknown what these materials were but he was holding a poster of the movie “V for Vendetta” in his picture.
CUHK’s No. 2 bridge was the site of intense clashes between police and protesters in November 2019, during the height of the pro-democracy movement. The police fired a water cannon, tear gas, and rubber bullets while students threw bricks and petrol bombs to prevent police from entering the campus.