Lee emphasized that the only way for these activists to avoid a lifetime of being pursued as fugitives was to surrender. The arrest warrants were issued for former pro-democracy lawmakers Nathan Law, Ted Hui, and Dennis Kwok, lawyer Kevin Yam, unionist Mung Siu-tat, and activists Finn Lau, Anna Kwok, and Elmer Yuen. They have been accused of breaching the Beijing-imposed National Security Law by engaging in offenses such as collusion with foreign powers and inciting secession.
While more than 260 people have been arrested under the National Security Law since its enactment in 2020 as part of a broader crackdown on dissent, this is the first time that rewards of 1 million Hong Kong dollars ($127,600) for information leading to each arrest have been offered under this legislation.
Despite the backlash, Lee maintained that many countries' security laws have extraterritorial powers and stated that his government would not be swayed by comments from overseas officials and politicians. He affirmed their commitment to doing what they believe is right, regardless of political pressure.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning strongly criticized other countries for their "flagrant slandering" of China's National Security Law for Hong Kong. She emphasized that justice would be served without delay.
This dispute highlights the ongoing contention between Beijing and Western nations regarding the alleged global reach of China's enforcement agencies. Reports have emerged indicating that China operates secret overseas police stations in North America, Europe, and other countries with Chinese communities that include critics of the Communist Party and individuals with family or business ties to China. China denies that these stations are police facilities, asserting that their primary purpose is to provide citizen services like driver's license renewals.
Hong Kong's Secretary for Security, Chris Tang, reinforced the crackdown on the eight activists, focusing on severing their financial access by freezing and confiscating their assets. Tang announced that investigations would be conducted to identify those who financially support the activists both in Hong Kong and abroad. He warned that anyone found aiding them in endangering national security may be in violation of the law.
The actions taken by Hong Kong have not silenced the activists, as they continue to voice their concerns. Nathan Law, accused of foreign collusion and inciting secession, shared on Facebook that he is once again being targeted by China's Communist Party and feels the invisible pressure. However, he refused to surrender, asserting that his advocacy work has been reasonable, justifiable, and peaceful.
Mung Siu-tat, in an online interview, expressed concerns about potential threats from Chinese nationalists in Britain triggered by the arrest warrant, even though he currently faces no immediate arrest as he resides in the U.K. Nevertheless, he pledged to persist in his advocacy work, stating that the Chinese government aims to spread fear not only in Hong Kong but also beyond its borders. He argued that giving up in the face of suppression wouldonly embolden the regime to further silence dissenting voices.
Kevin Yam, speaking to Australian media, acknowledged that the arrests were not entirely unexpected. He noted that the remaining voices of dissent are now outside Hong Kong, and that's where the authorities are expanding their efforts.
Anna Kwok tweeted that she would not back down and reiterated her call to bar Chief Executive John Lee, who has been sanctioned by Washington for his involvement in the crackdown on rights in Hong Kong, from attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in the U.S. in November.
Hong Kong, which was a former British colony before returning to Chinese rule in 1997, has faced increasing scrutiny from Beijing following mass pro-democracy protests in 2019.
On Monday, the police acknowledged that they would not be able to arrest the eight activists if they remain overseas.
Eunice Yung, a pro-Beijing lawmaker and daughter-in-law of Elmer Yuen, expressed support for the police's actions and stated that she had cut ties with Yuen in August last year, emphasizing that his actions have nothing to do with her.
The pursuit of pro-democracy activists living abroad by Hong Kong authorities has sparked international concern and criticism. The tensions between Beijing and Western nations over the alleged global reach of China's enforcement agencies continue to escalate, with questions surrounding the extraterritorial application of the National Security Law and its implications for human rights and the rule of law. The ongoing struggle for democratic freedoms in Hong Kong shows no signs of abating, as activists and their supporters remain steadfast in their determination to fight for their ideals.