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The Hong Kong activist Nathan Law takes part in a demonstration outside the Foreign Office in Berlin, September 1, 2020. © 2020 Tobias Schwarz / AFP via Getty Images

(New York) – Hong Kong authorities have issued baseless arrest warrants and HK$1 million (US$128,000) bounties on eight exiled democracy activists and former legislators that expand China’s political intimidation campaign beyond its borders, Human Rights Watch said today.

On July 3, 2023, the Hong Kong national security police alleged that the eight people – former lawmakers Ted Hui, Dennis Kwok, and Nathan Law; activists Anna Kwok, Elmer Yuen, and Finn Lau; Christopher Mung, a labor unionist; and Kevin Yam, a lawyer – “committed serious crimes endangering national security, advocated sanctions, undermined Hong Kong, and intimidated Hong Kong officials,” and “schemed for foreign countries to undermine Hong Kong’s financial status.” The authorities should immediately drop the charges and bounties.

“The Hong Kong government increasingly goes above and beyond to persecute peaceful dissent both within Hong Kong and abroad,” said Maya Wang, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Offering a cross-border bounty is a feeble attempt to intimidate activists and elected representatives outside Hong Kong who speak up for people’s rights against Beijing’s growing repression.”

All of the suspects have been charged with “colluding with foreign forces,” except for Mung, who faces one charge of “inciting secession.” Law is also charged with “inciting secession,” Yuen with “subversion,” and Hui with “inciting secession” and “inciting subversion.” The police accused several of advocating sanctions against state officials. They also accused Hui of initiating the 2021 Hong Kong Charter, which endorses continued activism from abroad, and Yuen of organizing a Hong Kong parliament-in-exile.

The police claim such peaceful activities are all plots to “advocate Hong Kong’s independence.” Incitement carries 10 years in prison while “collusion” and “subversion” carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The alleged unlawful activities should be protected under human rights guarantees enshrined in Hong Kong’s de facto constitution, the Basic Law, and the Bill of Rights Ordinance, which incorporates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. But the Beijing and Hong Kong governments have eliminated these protections since Beijing imposed a draconian National Security Law on the city on June 30, 2020.

In addition, the Hong Kong police cited article 38 of the National Security Law, which states that the law applies beyond Hong Kong and China, suggesting they intend to try to pursue the eight in other jurisdictions. It also added that the Chinese government can request assistance from Interpol – the International Criminal Police Organization – to apprehend the eight, who live or have sought refuge in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In recent years, the Chinese government has expanded efforts to control information and intimidate activists around the world by manipulation of bodies such as Interpol.

The warrants also appear intended to marginalize the eight activists and their organizations. The Hong Kong police warned the public against funding them, suggesting that doing so would also violate the National Security Law.

In the past three years, Chinese and Hong Kong authorities have erased Hong Kong’s vibrant liberties and freedoms. They have arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted the city’s pro-democracy leaders. Hong Kong officials have dismantled its civil society organizations and independent labor unions, shut down its most popular pro-democracy newspaper, throttled the free press, censored films, and imposed “patriotic education.”

The Hong Kong government has also removed books from libraries and schools, encouraged informants by establishing a “national security hotline,” and otherwise sought to intimidate the public. The latest media outlet to close was the pro-democracy Citizens’ Radio station, which announced its closure on June 30, after 18 years of operation.

The authorities have permitted no public assemblies since 2020 on dates that are key to Hong Kong’s democracy movement, including July 1, which marks the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China.

Since the Chinese government imposed the National Security Law, police data shows that 260 people, between ages 15 and 90, have been arrested for national security offenses. Dozens have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted of “sedition” for posting peaceful comments on social media or publishing books critical of the government.

Since Beijing’s crackdown, over 100,000 Hong Kong people have relocated abroad, many to the UK. Around the world, the Hong Kong diaspora has organized civic groups, activist movements, and numerous protests. They have increasingly put pressure on foreign governments to hold top Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for violating human rights in Hong Kong.

Foreign governments should speak out against the Chinese government’s global intimidation campaign against Hong Kong people at home and abroad. They should impose targeted sanctions on government officials implicated in serious abuses, including these eight cases. They should also put in place effective measures to protect these and other people against Beijing’s long arm of repression.

“The Hong Kong government’s charges and bounties against eight Hong Kong people in exile reflects the growing importance of the diaspora’s political activism,” Wang said. “Foreign governments should not only publicly reject cooperating with National Security Law cases, but should take concrete actions to hold top Beijing and Hong Kong officials accountable.”

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