HK 'holds 11' over helping activists flee

Andreas Landwehr and Lisa Jane Harding
·2-min read

Hong Kong police have arrested 11 people on suspicion of helping a group of pro-democracy activists who tried to flee for Taiwan in August, the South China Morning Post reports.

The 11 included 72-year-old Democratic Party councillor Wong Kwok-tung, who announced his own arrest on social media.

The latest arrests by police enforcing the new national security law were on suspicion of helping 12 Hong Kong residents to flee Hong Kong for Taiwan by speedboat.

They were captured by Chinese maritime police and taken to Shenzhen, a mainland city next to the semi-autonomous region.

One UK advocacy group denounced the arrests.

"Increasingly it is clear that Beijing intends to use this draconian law as a blunt tool to crush dissent, where the hiring of a boat, the providing of accommodation and the offering of free legal advice is now punishable to a minimum of 10 years in prison," said Benedict Rogers, chief executive of the humanitarian group Hong Kong Watch.

"This latest crackdown makes a mockery of previous claims that the (security) law would be used sparingly and be applied only to cases with a direct and imminent threat to security," he added.

Ten of the group who tried to flee to Taiwan received prison terms of up to three years in China.

The remaining two, as minors, were handed over to Hong Kong police.

"After an in-depth investigation, National Security Department arrested eight men and three women aged between 18 and 72 for assisting offenders," police said in a statement.

The case drew widespread international attention as families were denied the right to appoint their own lawyers or see those detained.

High-profile activists such as Joshua Wong, who is now serving just over a year in jail for his role in unauthorised protests in June 2019, advocated for their release.

Police have been on the lookout for potential accomplices since August last year.

In October, police arrested nine people, including former assistants to three ex-lawmakers, on suspicion of having helped the 12 activists to flee.

The national security law came into effect on June 30 last year, a day before the 23rd handover anniversary of the territory from British rule back to China.

The law imposed by Beijing authorities - which targets secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism - was, according to the government, meant to clamp down on a minority of offenders but has effectively stamped out all opposition voices.