Chinese authorities have confirmed the arrests of multiple Hong Kong residents after setting up a checkpoint on the 55-kilometer (about 34 miles) bridge that connects Hong Kong, Macau, and mainland China.
The measure was instituted as part of security arrangements ahead of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s trip to Macau, which on Dec. 20 will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its handover from Portuguese rule in 1999.
Chinese police confirmed on Dec. 16 that a Hong Kong man surnamed Zhong was arrested when he tried to travel to Macau by bus. Police say Zhong is a key member of a smuggling gang.
Other Hong Kong residents have been arrested while traveling on the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau (HKZM) Bridge since authorities set up the checkpoint on Dec. 10. Police have confirmed that the suspects are being charged in mainland China.
The checkpoint and arrests have elicited fears that they’re part of communist China’s broader agenda to limit the rights of Hongkongers under the “one country, two systems” arrangement.
The HKZM Bridge was completed in early 2018. Connecting the two special administrative regions and Zhuhai, in Guangdong Province, it’s the longest sea-crossing bridge in the world. Residents of Hong Kong and Macau don’t need to show internal visas to travel between the two former colonies.
Hong Kong, which reverted to Chinese rule from British administration in 1997, has been the site of massive public unrest over the Chinese Communist Party’s increasing influence over the city and its civil institutions. Pro-democracy demonstrations sparked by a controversial now-withdrawn extradition bill are now in their seventh month.
Police from Guangdong, the province bordering Hong Kong and Macau, said on social media that Zhong, who was arrested on Dec. 15, was involved with a gang that in 2012 had smuggled cell phones between Shenzhen, Guangdong, and Hong Kong.
On Dec. 9, the Guangdong provincial public security bureau issued a notice saying that it would set up a checkpoint the next day, ahead of the anniversary of Macau’s handover. The checkpoint will remain in effect until Dec. 22.
In at least one case, Hong Kong authorities weren’t aware that one of the city’s residents had been detained.
On Dec. 14, a Hong Kong man filed a missing person report at Tsing Yi police station, saying that his father had taken a bus via the bridge to Macau on Dec. 13. But when the bus arrived at the bridge’s East Artificial Island, the father texted the son on WhatsApp, saying the bus had been stopped by mainland police; another text said that the father had been detained. After that, the man says he couldn’t reach his father.
The Hong Kong police didn’t seem to know about the arrest; police in Macau were also unaware of the case.
The East Artificial Island of the HKZM Bridge is administered as part of mainland China.
On Dec. 16, a reporter from Hong Kong Now News was denied entry into Macau by mainland police. The news outlet reported that the reporter had registered and was approved by the Macau government to report on handover anniversary events.
The reporter and his cameraman took a bus as planned; there wasn’t any trouble when they left Hong Kong, the outlet said. At the East Artificial Island checkpoint, the reporter presented his Hong Kong identification and Mainland Travel Permit to mainland police.
The cameraman passed the check smoothly, but the police asked the reporter about the purpose of his visit, checked his luggage, and instructed him to wait, the outlet said.
When he asked for details, the reporter was told by police that he couldn’t go to Macau for the next several days, but wasn’t given a reason, the news channel said. About three hours later, police arranged for the journalist to take a bus back to Hong Kong.