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Hong Kong police arrest 6 people accused of violating the city's law

29/5/2024 6:09
        Hong Kong police on Tuesday arrested six people, including a former organizer of the city’s decades-long annual vigil that commemorated China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown, for allegedly publishing seditious social media posts, in what were the first publicly known arrests under the city’s new national security law.
        
        Secretary for Security Chris Tang said Chow Hang-tung, a former leader of the group behind the vigil, alongside five others, used a Facebook page to anonymously publish the posts. Police said their acts began in April and that the suspects were targeting a "sensitive date."
        
        The authorities have not detailed the content of the posts. But the page started publishing a series of posts to mark the upcoming 35th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown, a politically sensitive topic in Hong Kong and mainland China, on April 30.
        
        Tang alleged the group made the posts with the intent to incite dissatisfaction or even hatred against the Chinese central government, the Hong Kong government and the judiciary. The posts also aimed to encourage netizens to organize activities "endangering national security," he said.
        
        "Although Hong Kong has embarked on the journey from stability to prosperity these days, we cannot let down our guard. We are still facing national security risks," Tang told reporters at a briefing.
        
        The authorities did not specify the content of the posts or identify the other five suspects.
        
        The introduction of the new security law in March - four years after Beijing imposed a similar law that had all but wiped out public dissent - has deepened worries about the erosion of the city's freedoms.
        
        The new law, known locally as "Article 23," has expanded the government’s power to deal with future challenges to its rule, punishing treason and insurrection with up to life imprisonment.
        
        Under the legislation, offenders who commit sedition offenses face harsher penalties than before. They face a maximum jail term of seven years if convicted for committing seditious acts or uttering seditious words - up from the previous maximum sentence of two years.
        
        But Tang said it is not illegal to merely mention sensitive dates.
        
        "The main crime is not about the subject. It's about they're utilizing the subject during which they incited hatred," he said.
        
        The six suspects are between 37 and 65 years old. Authorities raided the homes of five of them and seized items including electronic devices that officers suspect were used to publish the seditious messages, police said.
        
        When Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, Beijing promised to retain the city’s Western-style liberties for 50 years. However, since the introduction of the 2020 law, Hong Kong authorities have severely limited free speech and assembly under the rubric of maintaining national security. Many activists were arrested, silenced or forced into self-exile.
        
        Dozens of civil society organizations were disbanded under the shadow of the law, including the group behind the vigil. Chow and two former leaders of the group were also charged with subversion under the Beijing-imposed law and are being held in custody.
        
        The Beijing and Hong Kong governments say the law helped return stability following huge anti-government protests in 2019.
        
        The annual commemoration at Hong Kong Victoria Park used to draw thousands of people to remember the victims of the bloody crackdown on June 4, 1989.
        
        Amnesty International's China director Sarah Brooks criticized the arrests, saying the government has again moved to suppress freedom of expression.
        
        "The government's shameful attempt to prohibit people from marking the upcoming anniversary is an insult to those killed in the Tiananmen crackdown and their family members," she said.
        
        
        



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