Australia, UK, US condemn Hong Kong bounty for exiled activists

Police offer 1 million Hong Kong dollars for each of the activists whom they accuse of endangering national security.

Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have condemned the Hong Kong police over arrest warrants and bounties for eight exiled pro-democracy activists.

Hong Kong police on Monday evening announced a payment of 1 million Hong Kong dollars ($127,600) for information leading to the capture of the eight who are living overseas.

“The extraterritorial application of the Beijing-imposed National Security Law is a dangerous precedent that threatens the human rights and fundamental freedoms of people all over the world,” US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.

Hong Kong accuses the eight, including three former legislators, of “collusion with foreign forces” under the National Security Law, which Beijing imposed on the territory in 2020.

The eight “committed serious crimes endangering national security, advocated sanctions, undermined Hong Kong and intimidated Hong Kong officials” as well as “schemed for foreign countries to undermine Hong Kong’s financial status,” the police alleged.

Among the eight living in the UK is Nathan Law, the youngest person ever elected to Hong Kong’s legislature, who told the BBC that he had to be “more careful” as a result of the warrants.

Beijing critics have already expressed alarm at the existence of suspected Chinese police stations operating in democratic countries in Europe and North America. China has said they are “service centres” for Chinese citizens needing help with administrative tasks such as the renewal of passports.

UK Foreign Minister James Cleverly said the arrest warrants were a “further example of the authoritarian reach of China’s extraterritorial law“.

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‘Pursued for life’

The broadly-worded NSL criminalises activities deemed to be secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces, and was introduced after mass protests in support of democracy swept the territory in 2019, some of which turned violent.

Among its most high-profile targets is media tycoon Jimmy Lai who was arrested shortly after the law was introduced and sentenced to five years in prison in December 2022 for fraud over an office lease. He faces a trial on security law charges in September, after it was delayed because of the presence of a UK-based lawyer on his defence team.His hugely-popular Apple Daily published its last edition in June 2021.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Canberra was “deeply disappointed” at the latest warrants. Former legislator Ted Hui and lawyer Kevin Yam, who is also an Australian citizen, live in the country.

“We have consistently expressed concerns about the broad application of the National Security Law to arrest or pressure pro-democracy figures and civil society,” Wong said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch said Hong Kong should immediately drop the charges and bounties.

“The Hong Kong government increasingly goes above and beyond to persecute peaceful dissent both within Hong Kong and abroad,” HRW’s associate Asia director Maya Wang said in a statement. “Offering a cross-border bounty is a feeble attempt to intimidate activists and elected representatives outside Hong Kong who speak up for people’s rights against Beijing’s growing repression.”

Writing on Twitter, Anna Kwok, one of three activists on the list who lives in the US, thanked those who had highlighted the “transnational repression & NSL’s extraterritorial application displayed by the Hong Kong gov’t today”.

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Speaking on Tuesday, Chief Executive John Lee brushed off criticism and told reporters the eight would be “pursued for life”. They should “give themselves up as soon as possible,” he added, according to the Reuters news agency.