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US, UK slam Hong Kong bounty offers for 5 activists

HK police announce new list of five Hongkongers they wish to arrest for alleged national security crimes
The Hong Kong police on Friday announced arrest warrants for five pro-democracy activists who reside overseas.

The Hong Kong police on Friday announced arrest warrants for five pro-democracy activists who reside overseas. (Photo: Hong Kong Police Force / YouTube)

Published: December 15, 2023 05:55 AM GMT
Updated: December 15, 2023 06:05 AM GMT

Hong Kong police offered bounties on Dec. 14 for information leading to the capture of five overseas activists accused of national security crimes, drawing prompt rebukes from the United States and Britain.

The city's authorities said the five wanted individuals, all now living abroad, would be pursued "till the end" as they offered HK$1,000,000 (US$128,000) bounties for help catching them.

The five fled after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the financial hub in 2020 to quash dissent after massive pro-democracy protests.

The bounties are the second batch of hefty rewards offered by Hong Kong police pursuing fugitives accused of national security crimes, and were immediately criticised by Washington and London.

The US said it strongly condemned the move, while Britain called it "a threat to our democracy and fundamental human rights."

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron added he had instructed British officials in Hong Kong, Beijing and London to "raise this issue as a matter of urgency."

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said "advocates for democracy and freedom will continue to enjoy their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms" in the United States.

"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," he added.

Hong Kong police Chief Superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah said the five were suspected of incitement to secession, incitement to subversion, and foreign collusion — crimes that can carry sentences of up to life in prison.

"All of them, who have already fled overseas, have continued to commit offenses under the national security law that seriously endanger national security," Li told a news conference.

He said they "betrayed their country, betrayed Hong Kong, disregarded the interests of Hong Kong people, and continue to endanger national security even when abroad."

'Never back down' 

Among them was prominent activist Simon Cheng, who is currently in Britain and is the founder of the civil society group Hongkongers in Britain.

The other four identified were Frances Hui, Joey Siu, Fok Ka-chi and Choi Ming-da.

Responding on social media, Siu said she was a US citizen and that she was targeted for exercising freedoms "in my own country."

"I will never be silenced, I will never back down," Siu wrote.

Cheng also said on social media: "If the government deems the quest for democracy and freedom a crime, we embrace the charges to reveal the genuine face of social justice."

Sarah Brooks, Amnesty International's deputy regional director for Greater China, said the bounties "only compound the already existing climate of fear."

"The placement of a bounty under the guise of national security charges is an act of intimidation that transcends borders and aims to silence dissent everywhere," she said, urging the bounties to be withdrawn.

Cheng and Hui were granted asylum in Britain and the United States, respectively.

'Intimidate' 

In his condemnation, Cameron said Hong Kong police had "again targeted individuals for exercising their right to freedom of expression."

"We will not tolerate any attempt by any foreign power to intimidate, harass or harm individuals or communities in the UK," he added, urging Beijing to repeal the national security law and "end its persecution of political activists."

The law — which has reshaped Hong Kong society and broken down the legal firewall that once existed between the city and mainland China — claims the power to hold accused people accountable across the world.

However, Hong Kong authorities have not specified how enforcement abroad is possible.

Eight prominent activists also overseas — including pro-democracy lawmakers Nathan Law and Ted Hui — were identified in July as targets for the police, which offered bounties of HK$1 million each for information leading to their capture.

Police also announced on Dec. 14  they had arrested two men and two women, aged between 29 and 68, in Hong Kong for "providing pecuniary assistance" to Law and Hui.

Those people were suspected of paying sums of up to HK$120,000 to the duo on online crowdfunding platforms, Li said, without identifying the site.

At least 30 people in Hong Kong had already been questioned by police over their alleged ties to the activists.

City leader John Lee — who has been sanctioned by the United States for his role as security chief during the 2019 pro-democracy protests — has said the wanted activists would be "pursued for life" and called on them to surrender.

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