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Hong Kong police expand dragnet on overseas pro-democracy activists

Hong Kong police expand dragnet on overseas pro-democracy activists
The image of activist Frances Hui is displayed during a press conference to issue arrest warrants in Hong Kong, China, Dec 14, 2023.
PHOTO: Reuters

HONG KONG — Hong Kong police on Thursday (Dec 14) added five more overseas-based activists to a list of wanted people, offering bounties for information leading to their arrest in a continuing crackdown on dissent under a China-imposed national security law.

The move, which adds to a list of eight overseas activists deemed fugitives by authorities in July, triggered criticism from governments in the US and UK.

The five are Simon Cheng, Frances Hui, Joey Siu, Johnny Fok and Tony Choi, who are now based in various countries including the United States and Britain.

"All of them who have already fled overseas have continued to commit offences under the national security law that seriously endangered national security," Steve Li, an officer with the Hong Kong police's national security department, told reporters.

The five were accused of various offences under the law, including incitement to secession and subversion, as well as collusion with foreign countries or external forces.

Police issued wanted notices and rewards of HK$1 million (S$170,153) for each of the five.

Beijing imposed the national security law on the Asian financial hub in 2020 after months of anti-government protests. The law punishes acts including subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces, and terrorism with up to life in prison.

Financial help charges

Joey Siu, an activist based in Washington and a US citizen, told Reuters that this was the first time an American citizen had been placed under such a warrant and this "demonstrated the extraterritorial reach of the national security law and the chilling effect that follows".

"I think democratic countries, especially the US, need to take a lead on addressing such transnational repression harassment tactics against activists like me," Siu said.

Another activist shrugged off the moves.

"If the government deems the quest for democracy and freedom a crime, we embrace the charges to reveal the genuine face of social justice, unyielding to authority," Simon Cheng, who is now based in Britain, said on social media platform X.

The US State Department said it strongly condemned the Hong Kong authorities' actions and its "bounty list" targeting democracy activists overseas.

"That shows blatant disregard for international norms, for democracy and human rights," State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told a regular news briefing on Thursday. "We deplore any attempt to apply the Beijing-imposed national security law extra-territorially and reiterate that Hong Kong authorities have no jurisdiction within United States' borders, where the advocates for democracy and freedom will continue to enjoy their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and rights."

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said he had instructed officials in Hong Kong, Beijing and London to raise the issue as a matter of urgency with the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities.

"We will not tolerate any attempt by any foreign power to intimidate, harass or harm individuals or communities in the UK. This is a threat to our democracy and fundamental human rights," Cameron said in a statement released by his office.

Hong Kong police also said they also arrested two men and two women aged between 29 and 68 for allegedly providing financial assistance for activities endangering national security to two wanted activists, Nathan Law and Ted Hui.

These were the first such arrests on financial assistance grounds under the security legislation, which carries a maximum jail term of 10 years.

"We paid particular attention to the essence of the wanted persons, and tried to break their chain of financing by all means," Li said.

Li said the four had donated amounts of between HK$10,000 and 120,000 via an online crowdfunding platform to promote secession. They are being detained for further investigation.


Another prominent activist, Agnes Chow, jumped bail and fled Hong Kong this month after what she called sustained pressure from authorities that had damaged her mental and physical health. Chow said she was forced to travel to the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen where she was taken under police guard to a patriotic exhibition on China's achievements, before authorities allowed her to travel to Canada for studies.

Li did not confirm, or deny, any of Chow's claims, including the forced China trip, but said police bail conditions could change according to different individuals and circumstances.

"If she has a chance to listen to this press conference, I hope she can seize the opportunity to return to Hong Kong, so that she won't become a fugitive," Li said.

A spokesman for the Hong Kong government said in a statement that it strongly supported the police action.

"Fugitives should not take any chances or have any delusion that they could evade criminal liabilities by absconding from Hong Kong," the spokesman said.

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