Four University of Hong Kong students were arrested Wednesday on suspicion of promoting terrorism after they publicly mourned a man who stabbed a police officer and then killed himself in July.
The detainees, between 18 and 20 years old, were members of a student union that live-streamed one of their meetings last month, during which 30 union members passed a motion “appreciating the sacrifice” of the man who died and held a moment of silence in his honor.
The livestream was met with backlash from the university and the Hong Kong government, prompting the union to recant the motion and several of its leaders to apologize and step down.
Speaking at a press briefing on Wednesday, Steve Li, the senior superintendent in the police national security department, said the motion sought to rationalize and glorify terrorism.
Li added that police plan to interrogate the other union members who voted in favor of the motion, which he said encourages suicide.
The attacker celebrated by the union stabbed a police officer in the back on July 1, the one-year anniversary since Beijing imposed a strict national security law on Hong Kong. The officer suffered a punctured lung but survived, while the assailant fatally stabbed himself in the chest.
Chris Tang, secretary for security, described the assault as a domestic terrorist attack, and police warned people not to mourn the attacker in a statement.
“Advocating members of the public to mourn for the attacker is no different from supporting terrorism,” police said. “It will incite further hatred, divide the society and eventually breach social order and endanger public safety, threatening everyone in Hong Kong.”
The Hong Kong National Security Law was introduced last year in response to massive pro-democracy protests in 2019. China has been slowly tightening freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory in recent years, despite promising in 1997 to give the region 50 years of political freedom.
The law has enabled the government to crack down on pro-democracy activists, leading to the closure of a large newspaper, arrests of over 100 activists and the stifling of large public protests.
Individuals who are convicted of promoting terrorism in Hong King face a five- to 10-year prison sentence, according to Article 27 of the security law.