The U.S. State Department condemned the latest mass arrests in Hong Kong after local police broke up protests on Oct. 1, the date that marks the 71st anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s takeover of China.
“We are outraged at the Hong Kong government’s arbitrary arrest of more than 80 people on October 1,” said State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus in a statement published on Oct. 3.
She added: “By repressing peaceful public opinion, the Hong Kong government once again shows its complicity with the Chinese Communist Party’s evisceration of Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms of its people.”
On Thursday, protesters defied a police ban and hit the streets to voice their longstanding demands including universal suffrage, as well as opposition to Beijing’s imposition of a national security law, which punishes vaguely-defined crimes such as secession with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Hong Kong police said in a statement on late Thursday night that least 86 people were arrested across the city, on charges such as taking part in “unauthorized assemblies,” “possessing offensive weapons,” and other allegations. Among those arrests were four district councillors. All have since been released on bail.
Mozam Chan, one of the four arrested, took to his Facebook page to recall his experience with police that day. He wrote that he was passing through an area of Causeway Bay after having a meal and was about to visit the relative of an arrested person in another part of the city. Suddenly, riot police approached and stopped him. The police searched him and accused him of participating in an “unauthorized assembly.”
Another district councilor, Fergus Leung, shared his opinion of China’s “National Day” on his Facebook account just several hours before his arrest. He wrote that Beijing’s oppression against Hong Kong has been nonstop in the past 23 years, and he would “never celebrate for an authoritarian regime whose hands are tainted with the blood of Hongkongers.”
Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997, with Beijing promising to retain the city’s autonomy and freedoms for 50 years under the model of “one country, two systems.” However, international critics and locals have said that the national security law has spelled the end for the city’s autonomy.
Hong Kong has been rocked by tumultuous protests against Beijing since millions took to the streets in June 2019 to oppose a since-scrapped extradition bill. According to Hong Kong police data, 10,022 people have been arrested from the site of protests from June 9 last year to Sept. 15 this year.
The State Department said police arrests of protesters were using “law enforcement for political purposes, which is contrary to the preservation of the rule of law, and respect for human rights, including the rights to assembly and free expression,” Ortagus said in her statement.
She concluded: These arrests again underscore Beijing’s complete dismantlement of One Country Two Systems that the PRC [Pepole’s Republic of China] promised to uphold.”
Also on Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed unanimously the Hong Kong People’s Freedom and Choice Act of 2020 (H.R.8428), which would provide temporary refuge to Hongkongers already in the United States who fear persecution if they return to Hong Kong.
The bill was introduced by Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) days earlier, and is an updated version of a bill (H.R.7428) introduced in June.
The bill would also call for the expedited processing of refugee applications for Hongkongers fleeing the city, and the U.S. administration would work with ally countries to coordinate efforts to provide refuge to Hongkongers fleeing persecution.