HONG KONG - Hong Kong's national security officers arrested four University of Hong Kong student union members on Wednesday morning (Aug 18) on charges of terrorism, with the chief secretary for administration later saying the city has to restore the development of a "law-abiding culture".
Hong Kong Police Force Senior Superintendent Steve Li told the media the students, aged 18 to 20, were detained under the national security law for advocating terrorism, over a motion to pay tribute to a man who stabbed a police officer last month.
The police did not name the suspects but local media said they include the former president of the students' union Kwok Wing Ho, chairman of the students' council Kinson Cheung King Sang and former vice-president of the arts students' council Anthony Yung Chung-hei.
The university's student paper Undergrad reported that three other students have been taken to the police station to help with the investigation.
Supt Li described the motion as "shocking", adding that the students had mourned the attacker before moving the motion to commend the deceased's acts as bravery. The motion passed with 30 "yes" votes and two abstaining.
The arrested students are among more than 30 students who participated in a July 7 tribute to "express deep sadness" at the death of 50-year-old Leung Kin Fai, who stabbed a police officer from behind before stabbing himself, and to "appreciate his sacrifice to Hong Kong".
The incident occurred near Sogo mall in Causeway Bay on July 1, the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover from British rule to the Chinese.
Hours after the arrests, the city's No. 2 official John Lee told the media that Hong Kong people have to continue to develop a law-abiding culture, one that was "destroyed by the violence since 2019".
"At this time, when we have to rectify this incorrectness, we must ensure that this principle of being a law-abiding citizen is a fundamental cornerstone for a city to be stable and prosper," Mr Lee said.
"If we comply with the law, then everybody can go about their duty as freely and as comfortably as they may wish."
The student union resolution to pay tribute to Leung drew condemnation shortly from the city's officials, the university and also from Chinese state media China Daily, prompting the union to retract the motion.
The university said it "strongly" condemned the act of students using the name of the council to "whitewash violence and violent attacks", while the security bureau said glorifying the attack and advocating for people to mourn the attacker is no different from supporting and encouraging terrorism.
On July 9, the student union leadership stepped down, apologised and withdrew the "seriously inappropriate" motion.
More than a dozen executives and councillors resigned, but Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam called for an investigation into the student body over its retracted statement.
Subsequently, the university cut ties with the student body.
On July 17, the police raided the students' union office on suspicion of breaching the security law.
Soon after, the university evicted the union, and banned from campus students who passed the motion.
The arrests come on the back of a spate of disbandment of groups said to have links to the 2019 unrest, including the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) and Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union (PTU).
Both groups had announced their disbandment recently due to the political and social climate in Hong Kong.
Earlier this week, Secretary for Security Chris Tang said acts by both CHRF and PTU that endanger national security must be investigated.
On Wednesday, the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund that offers help to protesters who have been arrested or injured said it would cease operations. This group was set up days after the anti-extradition protests broke out in June 2019.
Pro-Beijing papers in Hong Kong, including Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po, have published editorials in recent months demanding that the police investigate the fund.