Hong Kong’s first domestic security arrest targets Tiananmen activist Chow Hang-tung and her supporters Global Voices

The six were charged with publishing inflammatory content

Screenshot of Chow Hang-tung’s club on Facebook. Fair use.

Detained Hong Kong human rights activist Chow Hang-tung was among six people arrested by national security police on May 28, 2024, marking the first arrests under the city’s new security law, which came into effect in March.

Security Minister Chris Tang confirmed on May 28 that the arrests took place in connection with a Facebook group calling for support for lawyer and human rights activist Chow, who has been detained since September 2021 under the Beijing-imposed national security law. was founded on May 18, 2023 and the primary location for those running it was Great Britain.

In an earlier statement, police said five men and a woman had been arrested on suspicion of acting with seditious intent. One of them, a woman already in custody, is said to have continuously posted anonymous “inflammatory” messages on a social media page with the help of the other five.

The posts are said to have taken advantage of an “upcoming sensitive date” to incite hatred against the central government and the Hong Kong government, as well as the judiciary. Police also alleged that the messages were intended to incite Internet users to organize or participate in illegal activities at a later date.

“As for the sensitive date, I actually don’t think the date itself was important,” Tang told reporters in Cantonese. “Most importantly, these people who intend to endanger national security have used this topic to incite hatred,” he continued.

The arrests came a week before June 4, which will be the 35th anniversary this year of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, when hundreds, if not thousands, died as China’s People’s Liberation Army forcibly dispersed student protesters in Beijing.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, of which Chow was vice-chairman, organized annual vigils to commemorate the victims of the Victoria Park crackdown until 2020, when the gathering was banned due to the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent the spread of the virus.

The vigil was banned again in 2021, with police again citing COVID-19, and the Alliance was dissolved in September 2021 after its leaders – Chow, Albert Ho and Lee Cheuk-yan – were arrested on suspicion of incitement to subversion. No official commemorations have been held since then.

Police searched the homes of five detainees and seized items related to the case, including electronic devices suspected of being used to publish the alleged messages.

Under the Safeguarding National Security Ordinance, commonly known as Article 23 legislation, crimes related to seditious intent are punishable by up to seven years in prison.

“Those who intend to endanger national security should not fool themselves into thinking that they can evade police investigations by posting anonymously online,” police said in a Chinese statement issued on Tuesday afternoon.

“The general public must recognize the truth and not be misled by false and distorted information,” she added.

Separate from the 2020 security law issued by Beijing, the domestically developed Safeguarding National Security Ordinance targets treason, insurrection, sabotage, outside interference, sedition, theft of state secrets and espionage. It allows pre-trial detention for up to sixteen days, and suspects’ access to lawyers can be restricted, with sentences of up to life in prison. Article 23 was suspended in 2003 amid mass protests and remained taboo for years. But it came into effect on March 23, 2024, after being fast-tracked and passed unanimously in the city’s opposition-free legislature.

The law has been criticized by human rights NGOs, Western states and the UN as vague, broad and ‘regressive’. However, authorities cited perceived foreign interference and a constitutional duty to “close loopholes” after the 2019 protests and unrest.

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