HK arrests eight activists as US votes to welcome city's residents

HONG KONG • Eight Hong Kong democracy activists, including three former lawmakers, were charged yesterday over their part in a July protest, amid a broad crackdown by the authorities under a sweeping new security law.

Those held include "Long Hair" Leung Kwok Hung, former Democratic Party chief Wu Chi Wai, former legislator Eddie Chu and Figo Chan, the organiser of an annual rally marking the handover of the city to China in 1997.

Police said the detainees were accused of inciting, organising and joining an "unauthorised assembly" on July 1, for which they could face a maximum of five years in jail. All the suspects were released on bail before their first court appearance scheduled for Dec 17.

Chan said the prosecution would not deter him from taking part in social movements in future, reported RTHK.

Beijing imposed a national security law in Hong Kong on June 30, a move aimed at crushing dissent in the international financial hub following months of huge and often violent protests last year.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets the day after its passage, leading to the arrest of over 370 people, including some for carrying banners and flags adorned with pro-democracy slogans.

Hong Kong's administration insists the law has not impinged on the rights to freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed to the territory when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. But activists have spoken of a chilling effect over the city's opposition.

The US House of Representatives voted on Monday to welcome Hong Kong residents to live temporarily in the United States, vowing to be a beacon for rights as China clamps down in the territory.

The House moved by consensus to issue so-called Temporary Protected Status for five years to Hong Kong residents, meaning that people from the financial hub will have the right to work in the US and will not be subject to deportation.

The initiative must still be approved by the US Senate, but it enjoys support across party lines - unlike a previous bid by Democrats to extend the status to Venezuelans, which was effectively blocked by President Donald Trump.

Representative Tom Malinowski, a Democrat who sponsored the Hong Kong Bill, said the decision to "self-confidently open our doors" was more powerful than moving to "slap a few sanctions" on Chinese officials, as the State Department again did on Monday.

If the Senate approves, Hong Kong would be the only wealthy place whose residents can enjoy Temporary Protected Status, which has been issued by Congress or the White House to protect hundreds of thousands of people from war-ravaged nations such as Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2020, with the headline 'HK arrests eight activists as US votes to welcome city's residents'. Subscribe