HONG KONG—Hong Kong’s leading youth pro-democracy party, Demosisto, accused Chinese state security agents of using “scare tactics” to intimidate two activists briefly detained for questioning earlier this year during visits to the mainland.
China’s Ministry of State Security couldn’t be immediately reached for comment on the two incidents, while the Hong Kong government’s Security Bureau gave no immediate response to a Reuters request for comment.
Demosisto withheld the names of the two party members, one of whom subsequently quit the pro-democracy party.
One was held for questioning for five hours during a visit to a city in southern China’s Guangdong Province earlier this month, and the other was questioned in March during a trip to another city in the same province.
“We’re not just talking about a simple dialogue with no harm or no threat. We’re talking about our members being detained with a hostile attitude,” said Nathan Law, a founding member of Demosisto and an elected lawmaker who was disqualified from public office by authorities last July.
“It’s definitely a scare tactic.”
Law, one of the leaders during Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement in 2014, was one of the six elected lawmakers who lost their seats in the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (LegCo) when their oaths during the swearing-in ceremony were rejected.
An activist held in the most recent incident had recounted how an agent described Demosisto’s advocacy of Hong Kong’s right to self-determination and greater autonomy as being akin to “inciting subversion.”
A copy of China’s national security and counter-espionage laws was placed on the table during the interrogation, and the activist was persuaded to sign an “apology letter” before being released and allowed to return to Hong Kong.
In the incident in March, a Demosisto member was picked up in Guangzhou City and taken to a hotel room for questioning, before being allowed to return home.
“What we are afraid of is (that) under this kind of hardline of President Xi (Jinping), this kind of situation will be more common in future,” Demosisto leader Joshua Wong said.
In recent years, pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong have decried what they see as Chinese regime’s increased suppression of civil liberties and democratic reforms.
Earlier this month, China’s Foreign Ministry publicly rebuked Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club for inviting a pro-independence activist, Andy Chan, to give a speech at the club.
Calls have since grown from Chinese officials and pro-Beijing Hong Kong politicians for the city to enact tough national security laws known as Article 23 legislation.
Article 23, an anti-subversion bill that was viewed as potentially dismantling the protection of basic rights in Hong Kong, was first introduced by the Hong Kong government in 2003. The bill caused a public uproar and resulted in a march on July 1, 2003, with more than 500,000 participants. Eventually, the bill was withdrawn.
Hong Kong reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under a so-called “one country, two systems” arrangement which guarantees a high degree of autonomy.
Hong Kong-born citizens are allowed to travel freely into China on special “re-entry” permits, but many vocal critics of Beijing and prominent democracy activists are often barred from entering.
By James Pomfret