Hong Kong Expands Hunt for Overseas Democracy Activists With More Bounties

Hong Kong Expands Hunt for Overseas Democracy Activists With More Bounties

HONG KONG — Hong Kong police accused five overseas-based activists of violating a harsh national security law imposed by Beijing and offered rewards of 1 million Hong Kong dollars ($128,000) on Thursday for information leading to each of their arrests.

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The bounties further intensify the Hong Kong government’s crackdown on dissidents following anti-government protests in 2019. Many leading pro-democracy activists were arrested, silenced or forced into self-exile after the introduction of the security law in 2020, in a drastic erosion of the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to China in 1997.

Read More: ‘It’s So Much Worse Than Anyone Expected.’ Why Hong Kong’s National Security Law Is Having Such a Chilling Effect

Both the Beijing and Hong Kong governments have praised the security law, saying it brought back stability to the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

Arrest warrants were issued for Johnny Fok and Tony Choi, who host a YouTube channel focusing on current affairs, and pro-democracy activists Simon Cheng, Hui Wing-ting and Joey Siu. Police refused to say anything about their whereabouts, but their social media profiles and earlier media reports indicate they have moved to the United States and Britain.

In July, Hong Kong warned eight other activists who now live abroad that they would be pursued for life with bounties put on them. It was the first such use of bounties under the security law, and the authorities’ announcement drew criticism from Western governments.

Read More: Hong Kong’s Million-Dollar Bounties Are About More Than Arresting 8 Activists

Steve Li, chief superintendent of the police national security department, said authorities have received about 500 pieces of information about the eight since those bounties were announced. He said some of the information was valuable but that no arrests have been made.

Li said the five activists newly added to the wanted list had committed various offenses including colluding with foreign forces and incitement to secession.

“They all betrayed their own country and betrayed Hong Kong,” he said at a news conference. “After they fled overseas, they continued to engage in activities endangering national security.”

Li said authorities will try their best to cut financial support to the wanted activists.

Police arrested four other people on Wednesday on suspicion of funding former pro-democracy lawmakers Nathan Law and Ted Hui — two of the eight activists targeted by the police in July — through an “online subscription and crowdfunding platform.” The four were alleged to have provided financial support to others committing secession. The amounts involved ranged from 10,000 to 120,000 Hong Kong dollars ($1,280 to $15,400).

Read More: Hong Kong’s ‘Patriots Only’ Local Elections Marked by Arrests, Low Turnout

Cheng wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he embraced the charges. “Being hunted by China (Hong Kong)’s secret police, under a one-million-dollar bounty, is a lifelong honor,” he wrote.

Siu said on X that “I will never back down” and would not be silenced. Hui insisted on X that her advocacy for democracy and freedom would not stop.

Sarah Brooks, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for Greater China, said the tactic of placing bounties on activists appeared to be emerging as a method of choice to silence dissent. Brooks called for authorities to withdraw them.

“The placement of a bounty under the guise of national security charges is an act of intimidation that transcends borders,” she said in a statement.

Read More: How Authoritarian Regimes Are Stepping Up Repression Far Beyond Their Borders

In Washington, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller condemned the “egregious actions taken by Hong Kong authorities in announcing national security law changes and a new bounty list targeting democracy advocates overseas.”

“That shows blatant disregard for international norms for democracy and human rights,” he said. “Hong Kong authorities have no jurisdiction within United States borders where the advocates for democracy and freedom will continue to enjoy their constitutionally guaranteed freedom and rights.”

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said he has instructed officials in Hong Kong, Beijing and London to raise the issue as a matter of urgency with the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities. He also called on Beijing to repeal the security law and end its persecution of political activists.

“We will not tolerate any attempt by any foreign power to intimidate, harass or harm individuals or communities in the U.K. This is a threat to our democracy and fundamental human rights,” he said in a statement.

Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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