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Hong Kong Activists Feel Pressure as Chinese Authorities Approach Relatives in Mainland China 


FILE - This photograph taken on Nov. 14, 2020 shows a photographer in front of pictures depicting the 2019 campus siege at the height of the city's pro-democracy protests at an exhibition in the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

A pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong is the latest to disclose that Chinese authorities questioned his family and friends in mainland China for information about him.

Yat-Chin Wong, 19, is the organizer of StudentPoliticism, a political group in Hong Kong whose aim is to promote “core values such as democracy and liberty and our sentiments to Hong Kong.”

The teenager was arrested twice last year, while national security officers warned group members about their continued activism.

Wong, who spent his childhood in China before moving to Hong Kong while in primary school, revealed that his relatives in Sichuan had recently been approached for questioning.

“I was told by my family in the past few days that my relatives, friends and even classmates from primary school in China were questioned by public authorities. They wanted to know my plans and whereabouts. They told my relatives and friends not to keep in contact with me,” Wong told VOA.

After learning about the questionings, Wong severed ties with his family and friends.

“From past to future, my stand and actions are entirely on my own and are not associated with, or linked to, any of my relatives and family,” Wong posted on his Facebook page.

But Wong said he is still worried that further action could be taken.

“China suppresses people who hold opposite ideas against them. I guess the government could still approach or interrogate or question them,” he said.

“I haven’t seen or contacted them in a long time. Rather, I am more worried about the political prosecution that might happen to me in Hong Kong,” he said.

Hong Kong was returned to China from Britain in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” agreement that promised Hong Kong would retain a “high degree of autonomy” until 2047. But since the handover, Beijing has attempted to further tighten its control of the city.

In 2019, a now-withdrawn extradition bill sparked widespread anti-government protests in Hong Kong In response, Beijing implemented the National Security Act for Hong Kong, effective June 30, 2020.

FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping reaches to vote on a piece of national security legislation concerning Hong Kong during the closing session of China's National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, Thursday, May 28, 2020.
FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping reaches to vote on a piece of national security legislation concerning Hong Kong during the closing session of China's National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, Thursday, May 28, 2020.

The widely interpreted law prohibits secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, and carries maximum sentences of life imprisonment. Since the law became active, it has been a catalyst for changes in the city.

In 2019, a now-withdrawn extradition bill sparked widespread anti-government protests in Hong Kong that led to further demands, such as universal suffrage. The protests often turning violent. To restore stability to the city, Beijing implemented the National Security Act for Hong Kong, effective June 30, 2020. The law prohibits secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, and carries maximum sentences of life imprisonment. Since the law became active, it has been a catalyst for changes in the city.

Street demonstrations have stopped, pro-democracy slogans have been banned, activists have been arrested, or jailed and some have fled the city.

‘Time for a change’

Wong founded StudentPoliticism last May. As anti-government street demonstrations were declining, he said he felt it was time for a change.

“I actually realized the old method of demonstrations — taking our demands to the street — is not working anymore because the political suppression is so strong,” he told VOA. He explained his group held different activities such as holding street counters every weekend, including to support both jailed protesters in Hong Kong and the 2020 Thailand protests.

His efforts still came at a cost. He was arrested by authorities in September and November.

“The first was on the 6th of September. We were merely sending out masks due to the pandemic, and I was charged with unlawful assembly,” he said.

“The reason for the second arrest [was] because of the [demonstrations] I held to support 12 Hong Kong Youths. Citizens were encouraged to write letters to send love to the 12 youths. I was arrested while I [was] sending the letters,” he added.

Both arrests led to no further investigations, according to Wong.

But in December, Wong and members of his group were warned by national security officers that if their activism showed any suspicions that promoted Hong Kong independence, they would be arrested immediately.

It is not the first time that Beijing’s sweeping National Security Law has been used against young activists in Hong Kong.

FILE - Tony Chung was found guilty of unlawful assembly and desecrating the national flag. He will be sentenced on Dec. 29, 2020. Photo taken in Mongkok, Hong Kong, Oct. 2020. (Tommy Walker/VOA)
FILE - Tony Chung was found guilty of unlawful assembly and desecrating the national flag. He will be sentenced on Dec. 29, 2020. Photo taken in Mongkok, Hong Kong, Oct. 2020. (Tommy Walker/VOA)

In October, Tony Chung, the former organizer of the pro-independence group Studentlocalism, was detained by national security officers. Chung, also 19, is facing four charges under the law, including secession, money laundering and conspiracy to publish seditious materials.

According to local reports, Chung is facing up to seven years in jail if convicted, with his next court hearing on January 28. He earlier had been sentenced to a four-month jail term unrelated to the security law for allegedly insulting the Chinese flag during a protest in May 2020.

Wong admitted his group will have to resort to “different activities” because of the National Security Law.

“I’m not in university now. I’m retaking my exam (from) last year. … Last year, I concentrated on the activism. I believe I have the ability to go to university, so I retook the exam,” he said.

He added, “Hong Kong’s freedom is slowly getting eroded under the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] control. And our fight for democracy … is under enormous strain,” he said.

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