HONG KONG – Jailed Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was arrested on a new charge under the national security law on Thursday while an American rights lawyer who was detained in a sweeping crackdown was granted bail.
Friends and family of Wong, who is serving a 13 1/2-month prison sentence for organizing and participating in an unauthorized protest in 2019, were informed that he had been arrested on suspicion of violating the national security law and was taken away to give a statement on the new charge, according to a post on his Facebook page.
The post also stated that Wong's lawyer was unable to meet with him, and that Wong had been transferred back to prison after giving the statement, which was not disclosed.
Separately, John Clancey, an American human rights lawyer who works at law firm Ho Tse Wai & Partners, was granted bail, his associate said. He was one of 53 activists arrested Wednesday under the national security law. He couldn't be reached for comment.
At least some of the others were released on bail late Thursday from various police stations where they had been held. One, veteran activist and former lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, unfurled a banner that blasted the national security law as he left.
Benny Tai, a longtime activist, said upon his release that “Hong Kong is getting into a cold winter, with a wind blowing that’s very cold and very strong. But I believe that many Hong Kong people will find a way to walk against the wind.”
The activists are accused of taking part in an unofficial primary election last year that authorities say was part of a plan to paralyze the government and subvert state power.
The mass arrests were the largest move against Hong Kong’s democracy movement since Beijing imposed the law last June to quell dissent in the semi-autonomous territory following months of anti-government protests in 2019.
The primaries were held by the pro-democracy camp to determine the best candidates to field as they sought to gain a majority in Hong Kong’s legislature.
While most of those arrested were candidates in the primaries, Clancey was a treasurer for political organization Power for Democracy, which was involved in the event.
The arrests drew condemnation from the U.N., the U.S. and Europe.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was "appalled by the news of the arrest of an American citizen as part of this campaign of political repression.” He said the United States would not tolerate the arbitrary detention or harassment of its citizens and would explore further sanctions and restrictions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials and entities.
The legislative election that would have followed the unofficial primaries was postponed by a year by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who cited public health risks during the coronavirus pandemic.
The security law criminalizes acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers to intervene in the city’s affairs. Serious offenders face up to life imprisonment.
Authorities pointed to a plan called “10 steps to mutual destruction" that allegedly indicate the primaries were part of a broader push to cause damage to both Hong Kong and mainland China.
The plan was published as an opinion piece in the Apple Daily newspaper by Tai, the veteran activist and a former law professor. He mapped out 10 steps from 2020 to 2022, including the pro-democracy bloc winning a legislative majority, intensifying protests, the forced resignation of Lam due to the budget bill being rejected twice, and international sanctions against the China's ruling Communist Party.
Liz Throssell, a spokesperson for the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, said the arrests indicate that “the offence of subversion under the National Security Law is indeed being used to detain individuals for exercising legitimate rights to participate in political and public life.”
Chinese mission spokesperson Liu Yuyin called Throssell’s remarks “unwarranted” and alleged that the 53 people arrested had sought to paralyze Hong Kong’s government.
Kurt Tong, the former U.S. consul general in Hong Kong, saw the arrests as part of a methodical and escalating campaign to eradicate viable opposition politics both among the protesters and elected parties.
“The national security law provides the legal foundation to do that,” said Tong, now a partner at The Asia Group consultancy in Washington, D.C.
China wants to preserve Hong Kong’s economic vibrancy and free market without what it views as political complications, he said. He didn’t predict a mass exodus by companies, saying the city retains its residual energy and dynamism, but warned there could be a measurable impact over time.
“China’s taking a big gamble by picking away at parts of the Hong Kong system that it doesn’t like,” he said. “It really risks damaging parts that it values.”
Associated Press video journalist Alice Fung in Hong Kong and writer Ken Moritsugu in Beijing contributed to this report.