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Hong Kong arrest warrants: “Outrageous attempt” to target activists abroad

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

This blog is authored by Francis Clarke, Editorial Assistant and Tim Hetherington Fellow at Index on Censorship.

“I still believe that maybe in a decade’s time I can set foot in Hong Kong, when it’s democratic and free.”

These were the words of Hong Kong activist Nathan Law in January 2022, speaking with Index on Censorship editor-in-chief Jemimah Steinfeld as part of an interview for the magazine.

Law had fled the country in the summer of 2020 after the country passed the National Security Law, a draconian piece of legislation that criminalises even a whisper of criticism against Beijing’s rule.

The Hong Kong authorities – and by extension the Chinese Community Party – want Law back sooner than that.

Last week, the Hong Kong Police Force issued arrest warrants for Law and seven other pro-democracy activists living abroad, offering rewards of up to one million Hong Kong dollars ($127,651) for information leading to their arrests. The other activists are Finn Lau Ted Hui, Elmer Yuen, Kevin Yam, Anna Kwok, Dennis Kwok, and Christopher Mung.

It is the first time that warrants have been issued regarding an individual’s activity abroad under the National Security Law, which was first imposed in the city state in 2020. Violating the law carries a potential maximum life sentence in prison.

The activists, based in the UK, the United States and Australia, have been accused of “seriously endanger[ing] national security, including "incitement to secession", "subversion", "incitement to subversion " and "collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security”.

Law is accused by Hong Kong’s National Security Department of, among other things, posting material on social media advocating the separation of Hong Kong’s Special Administrative Region from the People’s Republic of China.

Hong Kong Watch, a UK-based registered charity which monitors threats to Hong Kong’s basic freedoms, has heavily criticised the arrest warrants. Its chief executive, Benedict Rogers, said: “We condemn this outrageous attempt… It is no coincidence that these warrants and bounties have been issued two days after the third anniversary of the imposition of the draconian National Security Law. We urge the UK, USA, and Australian Government to issue statements guaranteeing the safety of those activists named and the wider Hong Kong community living overseas.”

Tom Tugendhat MP, the minister of state for security of the United Kingdom, used his Twitter account to guarantee the security of the three activists living in the UK.

He said: “These warrants are trying to interfere with our internal affairs. Nathan Law and his fellow pro-democracy activists are under our protections and enjoy our full support.”

On Twitter, Law urged the Hong Kong authorities to disclose any evidence they had of his alleged collusion with foreign forces.

He added: “I am just a Hongkonger who speaks out for Hongkongers. I hope that all friends on the list are well, and I ask my Hongkongers not to cooperate with any related pursuit or bounty actions.

“We should not limit ourselves, self-censor, be intimidated, or live in fear.”

Index on Censorship has issued a statement condemning the arrest warrants and bounties, stating that “by offering financial incentives to members of the public to report on these pro-democracy activists, the authorities are trying to turn society against itself to isolate those who have spoken out against China’s attack on human rights.” The statement also called on all countries “to ensure that all those targeted by these warrants and the National Security Law are protected from transnational threats wherever they are.”

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