Beijing conducted what appears to be the first round of arrests under the National Security Law not related to direct protest activity. Police sought out three former members of the disbanded pro-democracy group Student Localism on Wednesday afternoon local time.
Joshua Wong, a Hong Kong activist, said that Tony Chung, the organization's former convener, had been tracked for several days before his arrest. Authorities accused Chung of "inciting secession" after posting a statement on Facebook criticizing Chinese nationalism.
Tony was arrested for "inciting secession" after he wrote a FB post on #China's nationalism. Meanwhile, arrestees' mobile phones were hacked by unknown #Huawei and #Samsung phones soon after their arrests. Tonight's arrest will clearly send a chilling effect on #HK online speech. https://t.co/OtTLziJmOR pic.twitter.com/KGmDJrxzzY— Joshua Wong ??? ?? (@joshuawongcf) July 29, 2020
Initiative Independence Party, a Facebook page suspected of being the "organisation advocating for HK independence" described by SSP Li Kwai-wa, reposted @studentlocalism 's post of Tony Chung's arrest before midnight. pic.twitter.com/qtIggxcrJB— Xinqi Su ??? (@XinqiSu) July 29, 2020
Student Localism spokesperson Ho Nok-hang was also arrested around the same time.
About an hour later, police apprehended Yanni Ho, escorting her and her mother out of their house and into a 7-seated police vehicle.
According to a spokesperson for the Hong Kong police, there was a fourth member of the group as well.
@StandNewsHK reporter running live outside @studentlocalism member Yanni Ho's home was ordered by these 3 men to show his press badged. When the reporter asked for the men's badges to prove their identities as law enforcers, the trio muted and left without identifying themselves. pic.twitter.com/dM7qMqlJHw— Xinqi Su ??? (@XinqiSu) July 29, 2020
The spokesperson ordered several media representatives to leave the press briefing as "they are not allowed to go live," says AFP reporter Xinqi Su.
He confirmed that three men and one woman between the agres of 16 and 21 were arrested under articles 20 and 21 of the National Security Law.
Article 20 concerns persons indicted for secessionist activities, while article 21 implicates anyone suspected of assisting people convicted under article 20.
Li said the four, who all reported to be students, were arrested because they announced, after #NSL came in force, online to establish an organisation with a programme to "found a republic of Hong Kong" "fight without bottom line" and "unite all pro-independence forces".— Xinqi Su ??? (@XinqiSu) July 29, 2020
When reporters asked whether the new Beijing-based law enforcement institution was involved in the arrests, the spokesperson said they "were purely carried out by our (HK police) national security division and had nothing to do with other organizations."
He said whether or not the individuals were members of Student Localism, their internet speech advocating for Hong Kong independence would be enough to convict them of "plotting secession." The regular Hong Kong police have jurisdiction to apprehend individuals under the National Security Law, according to the spokesperson.
Student Localism confirmed the arrests:
#LATEST @studentlocalism said 4 of its ex-members were arrested for secession and incitement to secession. The 4 are currently denied bail and detained in police stations in Tin Sum, Ma On Shan, Yuen Long and Tuen Mun respectively. They will have statements taken tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/HuMUiMQew1— Xinqi Su ??? (@XinqiSu) July 29, 2020
"They were sent to the police station, and we still don't know what happened to them," said activist Nathan Law on an Instagram Live call with Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). He said the law "really targets people's freedom of expression and [makes] Hong Kong into a de facto police state."