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3 men charged with helping Hong Kong intelligence appear in UK court


FILE - A British flag flutters in Parliament Square in London, March 29, 2019.
FILE - A British flag flutters in Parliament Square in London, March 29, 2019.

Three men appeared in a London court Monday after being charged with assisting the Hong Kong intelligence service.

Chung Biu Yuen, 63, Peter Wai, 38, and Matthew Trickett, 37, were released on bail following a brief hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court.

The three suspects, all from southeast England, were arrested earlier this month and charged with foreign interference and assisting a foreign intelligence service, violating Britain's National Security Act, police said Monday.

The security act, which was passed last year, allows police to detain suspects in national security and espionage cases without a warrant. The U.K. government said the act protects the nation from the “threat of hostile activity from states targeting the U.K.’s democracy, economy, and values.”

Yuen, Wai and Trickett participated in “information gathering, surveillance and acts of deception" between December and May, assisting the Hong Kong intelligence service, according to the charges.

Eight other men were also arrested by counterterrorism police this month under the act, but they were released without charges.

"While these offenses are concerning, I want to reassure the public that we do not believe there to be any wider threat to them," Commander Dominic Murphy, head of the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command, said in a statement.

The Chinese Embassy in London said Britain should not interfere with Hong Kong’s affairs, accusing Britain of fabricating the charges.

"The UK side must not go further down the wrong path of jeopardizing China-UK relations," the embassy said in a statement.

Hong Kong was a British colony for more than 150 years until 1997, when it was transferred to China.

Britain has repeatedly condemned Hong Kong for its treatment of pro-democracy activists. In 2021, it launched a visa program for Hong Kong residents to come to the U.K. after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law in the port city amid an ever-expanding crackdown on dissent.

More than 180,000 Hong Kongers have moved to Britain since the program was established.

Exiled to the U.K. and wanted by the Hong Kong police, Hong Kong democracy activist Finn Lau told VOA's Cantonese Service that while the situation is chilling, cross-border oppression has been going on for quite some time.

"Today's news is not particularly surprising, but it is a reminder to me to be more vigilant about my personal safety," Lau said.

Lau said that while he doesn't want to create an atmosphere of panic, he believes that those involved in cross-border suppression are not limited to just these three individuals. He also said that what has happened is an abuse of the Chinese government and the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office's powers.

"This is a very important time to revoke some of the diplomatic privileges of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office," Lau said.

Simon Cheng, founder of the British Hong Kong Overseas Association, is another Hong Kong activist who is living in Britain in exile and wanted by the Hong Kong police. He told VOA that British authorities’ use of the new National Security Law to deal with new threats and challenges is like a "shot in the arm" for Hong Kongers in Britain.

Cheng said that over the past few years he regularly has been harassed and monitored and while the British police and relevant departments have been helpful, they have never taken clear action.

"However, this time they went ahead and prosecuted three individuals, which shows their determination to address these cross-border repression cases and also tells everyone that they take this seriously," Cheng said.

He said he hopes the case will deter those involved in cross-border oppression.

The three suspects are scheduled to appear at the Central London Criminal Court on May 24 for their next hearing.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters, The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse. VOA Cantonese Service reporter Kris Cheng in London contributed to this report.

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