Hong Kong Police Make First 2 Arrests Under National Security Law

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
July 1, 2020Updated: July 1, 2020

Hong Kong police on July 1 made the first two arrests under a new national security law imposed by the Chinese communist regime.

The two individuals, a man and a woman, were detained for holding pro-independence flags. The Hong Kong Police Force said they were suspected of violating the Chinese regime’s national security law. They were among more than 70 people arrested by riot police by 4 p.m.

It came less than 24 hours after Beijing’s draconian national security law came into effect. The law, which was imposed at 11 p.m. on June 30, stipulates that offenders, if convicted of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces, could be imprisoned for life.

Riot police on Wednesday confronted thousands of protesters who gathered in Causeway Bay and Wan Chai to mark 23 years since the city was handed over from British to Chinese rule.

Crowds spilled out into the streets chanting “resist till the end” and “Hong Kong independence.”

Officers used pepper spray and water cannons to disperse crowds as they arrested more than 70 people, some for “unlawful assembly, violating the security law, obstructing police, and possession of weapons.”

Police detain a protester
Police detain a protester after spraying pepper spray during a protest in Causeway Bay before the annual handover march in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020. (Vincent Yu/AP)

In an announcement on Facebook, the Hong Kong Police Force said two of the individuals arrested were suspected of violating the national security law.

The police said earlier that the first arrest was of a man in the central Causeway Bay neighborhood who violated Beijing’s national security law by holding a flag calling for Hong Kong’s independence.

“This is the first arrest made since the law came into force,” police announced on Twitter.

According to a police statement, the man was arrested after police had issued multiple warnings to the crowd at the shopping district that they might be in violation of the law.

Another woman was later arrested in the area for holding a pro-independence flag, the Hong Kong Police Force said.

Riot police cited the law for the first time on Wednesday in confronting protesters.

“You are displaying flags or banners/chanting slogans/or conducting yourselves with an intent such as secession or subversion, which may constitute offences under the … national security law,” police said in a message displayed on a purple warning banner.

Any person taking part in secessionist activities, such as shouting slogans or holding up banners and flags urging for the city’s independence, is now in violation of the law regardless of whether violence is used.

The most serious offenders of the legislation, such as those deemed to be masterminds behind the crimes, could receive a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. Lesser offenders could receive jail terms of up to three years, short-term detention, or restriction.

The draconian legislation has sparked international outcry, with criticisms coming from more than 27 countries, as well as Taiwan and the European Union.

Concerns have been raised that the legislature breaches Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which guarantees that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights can remain in force in the territory.

Under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which set the terms of Hong Kong’s transfer to Chinese rule, the regime agreed to grant the city autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed in the mainland, under the formula of “one country, two systems.”

In a move to grant protections for certain Hong Kong residents at risk of persecution by Beijing’s national security law, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators on June 30 introduced a a bill to grant those who “peacefully protested Beijing’s corrupt justice system” eligibility for priority 2 refugee status.

The legislation, named the “Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act,” was sponsored by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.), along with Democrats Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

Sen. Marco Rubio
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) listens during a hearing in Washington on June 10, 2020. (Al-Drago-Pool/Getty Images)

Under the legislation, Hong Kongers who have “a well-founded fear of persecution” will be eligible for priority 2 refugee processing in Hong Kong or a third country, and the bill waives immigration intent as a factor in granting non-immigrant visas.

“Refugees from Hong Kong will not be subjected to the numerical limitation,” a release stated.

The Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act would also allow Hong Kong residents to remain eligible for refugee status as victims of political persecution if Beijing were to revoke residency for applying for refugee status or a U.S. visa.

Frank Fang, Reuters, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.