HONG KONG/TAIPEI - Police in Hong Kong have arrested 11 people, among them lawyer and District Councilor Daniel Wong Kwok-tung, for allegedly helping a dozen Hong Kong residents who sought to flee the city for Taiwan via speedboat last year.
Video footage Thursday showed the 71-year-old Wong being handcuffed as he was led out of his building in Hong Kong’s Tai Wai district.
“Democracy, rule of law, human rights. Keep up and do not give up, Hong Kong people,” Wong reportedly shouted.
VOA contacted the Hong Kong police, who responded with a statement.
“After in-depth investigation, National Security Department arrested 8 men and 3 women, aged between 18 and 72 in various districts today [January 14] for assisting offenders. The arrested persons are being detained for further enquiries.”
Democratic Party chairman Lo Kin-hei told VOA he “doesn’t understand the national security threat” those arrested Thursday allegedly were posing.
“This is not a crime under the national security law, it just under a local law that has been here for a very long time,” said Lo. Is it now the national security branch in the Hong Kong police have already grown into a much bigger scale and they actually oversee a lot of things and maybe they have become the political police?”
“I still believe a lot of Hong Kong people will help each other. It is an important element of the pro-democracy campaign. Not necessarily illegally; we can still help in a legal way,” Lo added.
The 12 Hong Kong youths linked to Thursday’s arrests were nearly all facing charges in the city when they attempted to flee in August. They were detained at sea by the Chinese coast guard and subsequently taken into custody in mainland China. In December, 10 of those were sentenced to jail for illegal border crossing, while two of the youngest detainees were sent back to Hong Kong.
According to local reports, the two youths were in court this week.
Hoang Lam-phuc, 17, appeared Wednesday in Hong Kong’s Kowloon City Court, charged with arson and possession of dangerous weapons. The case has been adjourned until February 26 as prosecutors decide whether to add additional charges, including absconding and conspiring to assist other criminals.
On Thursday, Liu Tsz-man, 18, was in Hong Kong’s District Court after being charged with possessing raw materials to make fuel bombs in 2019. His case was adjourned until March 2.
Hong Kong was to have been part of a “one country, two systems” arrangement until 2047 in a deal that Britain and China made prior to Britain’s handover of the city in 1997. The agreement called for Hong Kong to enjoy limited autonomy and democracy. Residents say Beijing has eroded those freedoms.
In June 2019, after authorities withdrew a controversial extradition bill that would have seen some defendants facing trial in mainland China, often violent street demonstrations occurred within Hong Kong and lasted six months. In June 2020, Beijing enacted a national security law in Hong Kong, prohibiting subversion, secession, and foreign collusion, with violations of the law freely interpreted.
Wong was the second lawyer to be arrested in more than a week following that of American human rights lawyer John Clancey. The American was one of 55 activists and politicians arrested on January 6 in connection with the Democratic primary elections in July 2020.
Chow Hung Tung, Hong Kong barrister and vice president of the Hong Kong Alliance group, said the national security law is being used excessively.
“I think the national security law gives very big power to the national security unit and supposing it should be used for national security offenses, but nowadays they are using this for everything. So, basically using this license to abuse power,” Chow told VOA.
Those formally charged under the measure include media mogul Jimmy Lai, founder of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, and teenage activist Tony Chung, who attempted to seek asylum in the U.S consulate in Hong Kong before he was arrested. Both are remanded in jail awaiting trial.