HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police have arrested four people aged 16-21 for suspected offences under the city’s new national security law, the first such detentions outside of street protests since the legislation took effect a month ago.
In a press conference shortly before midnight on Wednesday, a police spokesman said the three men and a woman, all students, were suspected of being involved in an online group that pledged to use every means to fight for an independent Hong Kong.
Beijing imposed the contentious legislation on its freest city, punishing what it broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
The law has been condemned by some Western governments, business leaders and human rights groups who say it represents the latest move by Beijing to tighten its grip over the former British colony.
Beijing says the law is crucial to plug gaping holes in national security defenses exposed by months of sometimes violent anti-government protests that rocked the city over the past year.
Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong say the law will be used to target only a minority of “troublemakers.”
In a Facebook post, Initiative Independence Party said four former members of Studentlocalism, a pro-independence party that was disbanded before the new law took effect, had been arrested on suspicion of violating Articles 20 and 21 of the legislation that include inciting secession. They were denied bail.
Police did not name the suspects but local media and online posts said Tony Chung, a former convener of Studentlocalism was among those arrested.
China considers Hong Kong to be an “inalienable” part of the country, so calls for independence are anathema to China’s Communist Party leaders.
Critics of the security legislation fear it will crush wide-ranging freedoms not seen on the mainland, including freedom of speech, that were guaranteed to Hong Kong for 50 years when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
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