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Politics

Agnes Chow arrest deepens Hong Kong fears of arbitrary detention

Activist says she was told little about charges against her under new security law

Pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow said Beijing's security legislation is being used to "suppress political dissidents."   © Getty/Kyodo

HONG KONG -- This week's arrest of 10 pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong on allegations of "collusion" with "external elements" has given fodder to critics who say China's new national security law is being used to suppress political dissent.

One of the suspects, well-known activist Agnes Chow, said police told her she was accused of colluding with foreign elements over social media since July but gave her no further details.

"This is obviously political repression," Chow told reporters after her release on bail Tuesday, adding that the new law is infringing on the citizens' rights it was ostensibly meant to protect.

All of those arrested Monday -- including Jimmy Lai, founder of the pro-democratic newspaper Apple Daily -- were released on bail by early Wednesday morning. Hong Kong as a rule grants bail within 48 hours, a rule that has not changed under the security law.

But should authorities decide to indict Chow based on further investigation, she may be detained again. If so, she likely would remain behind bars for much longer, based on the new legislation.

Chow and two others are accused of participating in an online group that urges foreign countries to impose sanctions over the Hong Kong issue, according to local media. Police allege that the arrested Apple Daily executives provided money to the group through channels including foreign bank accounts.

The security law stipulates that it applies only to acts committed after the legislation went into force and is not retroactive. Chow has steered clear of political activity since the law took effect, leaving Demosisto -- the pro-democracy organization that she helped found -- and refraining from posting on Twitter.

But the online group remained active after the legislation took effect at the end of June, according to a senior police official. The group continued to raise money in July and beyond and was involved in a report released this month by a bipartisan group of U.K. lawmakers, according to Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao.

Responses by pro-Beijing media outlets suggest that authorities took issue with Chow's emphasis on Japan in her advocacy.

The People's Daily, a Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, accused the fluent Japanese speaker of "kneeling before anti-China Japanese politicians." A Beijing-affiliated Hong Kong newspaper said she "targeted Japan and won many male fans."

If Chow is indicted, she likely would face a judge named by Hong Kong's chief executive. Judicial sources question whether a fair judgment could be rendered under those circumstances.

The new law lets mainland Chinese security forces step in directly if a Hong Kong case "is complex due to the involvement of a foreign country or external elements." Hong Kong police have been front and center in the crackdowns so far, with no clear involvement by Beijing. But should that change, suspects could be sent to the mainland to stand trial.

Chow signaled she has no intention of stopping her activism, saying she is "not sorry for fighting for democracy in Hong Kong." She is barred from leaving Hong Kong and has been ordered to appear in court Sept. 1.

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