The twelve residents of Hong Kong who were arrested on August 23 by Chinese authorities will get no help from the Hong Kong government. The group was picked up by the Guangdong coast guard on a boat bound for Taiwan. Taiwan has recently opened its doors to people from Hong Kong, granted they enter the country legally. Currently, Hong Kong has been urging Taiwan to return five Hong Kong residents who fled the city and were picked up by the Taiwan coastguard. Taiwan has declined to comment on this, but Premier Su Tseng-chang told reporters on Monday that “certain individual cases we cannot reveal,” while expressing that the government cared deeply about people from Hong Kong.
According to Hong Kong, the arrests were made under Chinese jurisdiction and they won’t be intervening. Family members of those who were arrested demanded some kind of assistance earlier this week, asking for lawyers who aren’t appointed by the Chinese government and for the group to have access to medication. The Hong Kong Security Bureau said arrangements could be made for the group to receive the medication they need.
China’s foreign ministry labeled the twelve Hong Kong residents as “separatists” and the Shenzhen police accused them of illegal entry. According to the Public Security Bureau in Shenzhen, the twelve who were arrested are under “compulsory criminal detention.” The youngest of the group is only 16 years old. The United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referred to the twelve as “democracy activists” in a statement Friday.
In a statement reported by Channel News Asia, Hong Kong’s Security Bureau said, “Everyone, regardless of where they are in any jurisdiction, must respect local laws and be responsible for their actions.”
Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, in a statement reported by Al Jazeera denies the claim that the twelve are democracy activists. Instead, she claims they are fugitives evading responsibility for criminal offences.
Hong Kong’s Security Bureau said that all twelve were suspected of committing crimes in Hong Kong. Ten of the twelve have been charged with violent offences including arson, assaulting police or possession of offensive weapons, rioting, and the manufacturing or possession of explosives. One person, identified by the Hong Kong Free Press as activist Andy Li, is suspected of collusion with foreign forces.
Collusion is included as a punishable offense in the recent National Security law passed in June that has given China a broad range of powers over supposed threats to national security in Hong Kong. The law allows China to punish anything they consider to be terrorism, separatism, or subversion. The law has been criticized for its ambiguity in language which leaves a lot open for interpretation by Chinese authorities.
The first arrest under the law was of a man at a Hong Kong protest who unrolled a flag which authorities deemed separatist in nature. Interestingly, they seemed to have failed to notice the flag actually read “no to” in smaller letters right before the larger phrase “Hong Kong Independence.”
Jerome A. Cohen, a New York University law professor who specializes in the Chinese legal system, called the new law “a takeover of Hong Kong,” in a statement to the New York Times. The New York times reports that the law means many suspects in security cases “will be held without bail” and that trials may be closed to the public. Further, they explain that some suspects can be sent to face trial in China, “where courts are opaque and often harsh.”
The law includes penalties for those seen as colluding with foreign countries, including urges to criticize or impose sanctions on the Chinese government. The use of censorship and intimidation via threat of arrests is a well-known response to a country facing international backfire for their repression. Repression Backfire is a phenomenon in which agitating state forces face international backlash for using harsh tactics, often leading to political or economic pressures from other countries to discourage further repression. It has been studied thoroughly by academics such as social scientist Brian Martin and anthropologist David Hess as a potential result to state violence and repression. The National Security law is an effective tactic in discouraging efforts by activists to convince international parties to intervene.
Whether the twelve arrested will be returned to Hong Kong is yet to be known, but the Hong Kong government continues to show no interest in interfering with the Chinese authorities.
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