US, UK, Taiwan Condemn Hong Kong’s Arrests of Pro-Democracy Activists

April 19, 2020 Updated: April 19, 2020

Government officials from the United States, the UK, and Taiwan have expressed concerns following the mass arrests of 15 pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong on April 18, the biggest crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy movement since large-scale protests erupted in June last year.

“Politicized law enforcement is inconsistent with universal values of freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly,” tweeted U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo following the arrests.

In a statement, Pompeo criticized Beijing and the Hong Kong government for taking “actions inconsistent with commitments made under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”

A treaty signed in 1984, the Declaration governed Hong Kong’s transfer of sovereignty from British to Chinese rule in 1997. Both sides had promised to preserve the city’s high degree of autonomy and essential freedoms.

The 15 activists were accused of organizing and taking part in “unlawful assemblies” on either Aug. 18, Oct. 1 or Oct. 20 last year. All of them have since been released on bail. They are scheduled to appear in court on May 18.

Among those detained were Martin Lee, 81, former lawmaker and founder of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party; Jimmy Lai, founder of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily; and current lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung.

Eight other former lawmakers were arrested, including Lee Cheuk-yan of the Labour Party; Albert Ho, Yeung Sum, and Au Nok-hin of the Democratic Party, and Margaret Ng of the Civic Party.

Lai, Lee, and Yeung were also arrested on Feb. 28 for taking part in an “illegal assembly” on Aug. 31 last year. They were previously released on bail and are scheduled to appear in court on May 5.

Others arrested were pro-democracy activists: Raphael Wong, Leung Kwok-hung, and Avery Ng, who are chair, vice-chair, and secretary-general, respectively, of local political party League of Social Democrats; and Figo Chan, vice convener of the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), a pro-democracy group that has organized several mass rallies last year.

Hong Kong Protests

Mass protests began in June last year over a since-scrapped extradition bill, as locals feared it would threaten the city’s judicial autonomy. The protests have since evolved into calls for greater democracy, as well as opposition to police violence against protesters. In recent months, the protests have quieted down due to the pandemic.

On Aug. 18, more than 1.7 million people rallied at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park to protest police violence, before taking to the streets in defiance of a police ban. On Oct. 1, thousands of protesters again defied a police ban and marched in central Hong Kong, urging Beijing to “return power to the people” on the day that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) celebrated the anniversary of its takeover of China.

On Oct. 20, about 350,000 Hongkongers marched from Tsim Sha Tsui, though the organizer CHRF failed to secure police approval for the protest. At the time, Chan, Leung, Ho, and a fourth activist said they would lead the march instead.

On Saturday, Hong Kong police superintendent Lam Wing-ho said more arrests were possible.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Security Bureau stated that the “arrests were made based on evidence from investigations and strictly according to the laws in force,” in a press release.

Lee, a longtime democracy activist and politician, spoke to the press after being released on bail. “Over the months and years, I’ve felt bad to see so many outstanding youngsters being arrested and prosecuted, but I was not charged. Now I’ve finally become a defendant. I feel proud that I have a chance to walk this path of democracy together with them,” Lee said, according to local outlet RTHK.

Hong Kong police have arrested more than 7,800 people on protest-related charges, aged between 11 and 84, since June last year.

After the arrests, local lawmaker Claudia Mo criticized the Hong Kong government for “trying very hard to introduce a reign of terror in Hong Kong,” she said in a tweet.

US Condemnation

Aside from Pompeo, several other U.S. officials also expressed concerns, including Attorney General William P. Barr, Senators Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).

“I condemn the latest assault on the rule of law and the liberty of the people of Hong Kong,” Barr said in a statement.

Barr added: “These actions—along with its malign influence activity and industrial espionage here in the United States—demonstrate once again that the Chinese Communist Party cannot be trusted.”

McConnell stated in a tweet: “The Chinese Communist Party should not be allowed to use a pandemic—which they exacerbated through secrecy and inaction—as cover for its agents to arrest peaceful pro-democracy leaders.”

Rubio tweeted: “HK’s leaders & Beijing are turning HK’s justice system into a CCP farce.”

The CCP virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, was initially covered up by the Chinese regime, when it silenced eight whistleblowers including ophthalmologist Li Wenliang. A recent report by the Associated Press showed that Beijing knew of the risk of the virus’s human-to-human transmission for six days before publicly admitting it on Jan. 20.

Pelosi and McGovern called for the Trump administration to implement the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.

The Act, signed into law by Trump on Nov. 27 last year, stipulates that sanctions be placed on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who have violated human rights in the city.

The Office of the Commissioner of China’s Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong, in a statement on April 19, supported Hong Kong police for making the arrests, while criticizing U.S. politicians for “blasphemy against the rule of law” in support of the activists.

UK and Taiwan

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said that Hong Kong authorities should not “inflame tension” in a statement on Saturday.

“We expect any arrests and judicial processes to be conducted in a fair and transparent manner,” FCO stated, before adding, “The right to peaceful protest is fundamental to Hong Kong’s way of life and as such is protected in both the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.”

Two British MPs, Tom Tugendhat and Catherine West, also took to their Twitter accounts to express concerns.

Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong before the handover, and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former UK foreign secretary, condemned the arrests, according to London-based Hong Kong Watch.

“With the world’s attention focused on the appalling COVID-19 epidemic, Beijing and its subservient government in Hong Kong have taken yet another step towards burying one-country, two-systems,” Patten said, referring to the framework with which Beijing promised to rule Hong Kong.

Rifkind said the arrests were “a truly appalling attack on the very heart of Hong Kong’s freedoms, the rule of law, and autonomy guaranteed to the people of Hong Kong under the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.”

In Taiwan, the local branch of New York-based broadcaster NTD reported April 19 that four local political parties, as well as the Mainland Affairs Council, a government agency that deals with cross-strait affairs, have issued statements expressing concerns about the arrests.

“Hong Kong’s authorities’ arrest of leading pro-democracy figures is not going to silence freedom-loving people,” tweeted local lawmaker Wang Ting-yu.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer