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Hong Kong protests

Hong Kong police file first charges under national security law

Hard-line official named to oversee implementation as activist Nathan Law flees city

Supporters of an arrested anti-security law protester in Hong Kong raise blank signs outside a courthouse on July 3 to avoid slogans that have been banned under the new legislation.   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- Police in Hong Kong on Friday laid their first criminal charges under the new national security law that Beijing this week imposed on the former British colony.

A 23-year-old man was charged with terrorism and secession for allegedly crashing a motorcycle into a group of police officers during a demonstration on Wednesday to mark the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese control. The man reportedly was carrying a flag with the popular protest slogan, "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times."

A government spokesperson said on Thursday night that the slogan implied a call for the city's independence.

"The slogan... nowadays connotes 'Hong Kong independence'... altering the legal status of the HKSAR, or subverting state power," the spokesperson said in a statement, referring to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the territory's official name. The case was adjourned until July 6.

At least 10 people have been arrested under the new security law since it came into effect late Tuesday night.

A spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday said the office was "in the process of analyzing the contents" of the law, which was enacted on June 30.

"We are alarmed that arrests are already being made under the law with immediate effect, when there is not full information and understanding of the scope of the offences," the spokesperson said in a statement from Geneva.

Nathan Law announced on social media that he had fled Hong Kong. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

Also on Friday, Beijing appointed a hard-line Communist Party official to lead a new security commission charged with overseeing the implementation of the national security law.

Zheng Yanxiong is known for his aggressive crackdown on protests in 2011 in the southern province of Guangdong, which abuts Hong Kong. At the time, he accused foreign media of inciting the unrest.

"If foreign media can be trusted, a pig can climb a tree," he was quoted as saying.

The new legislation stipulates that the authorities should "tighten oversight" on the foreign press and non-governmental organizations.

Meanwhile, Luo Huining, director of Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong, will serve as Chief Executive Carrie Lam's top adviser on a local committee charged with safeguarding national security. Lam on Friday also designated six magistrates to handle related court cases. Their names were not disclosed. 

The developments came a day after prominent pro-democracy activist Nathan Law Kwun-chung said he had fled Hong Kong because of the new legislation, which provides criminal penalties of up to life imprisonment for separatism, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Hours after testifying online to a U.S. congressional hearing on the security law, Law announced late Thursday on social media that he had left Hong Kong, but did not reveal his whereabouts. He is the first high-profile activist to leave since the law was enacted.

"Of course, I knew my speech and appearance would put my own safety in serious jeopardy given the circumstances," Law wrote on his Facebook page. "I made the decision when I agreed to testify before the US Congress."

Speaking before the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Law said the security law means the "complete destruction" of the autonomy of Hong Kong as had been agreed between the U.K. and China. 

Law and other activists last year lobbied U.S. lawmakers to support the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019. The bill allows Washington to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials that deemed responsible for human-rights violations in the territory, opening a path for the U.S. to revoke special trade privileges for the financial hub.

In an interview with the Nikkei Asian Review last week, Law said international pressure will be essential to keep China in check even though local activists will no longer be able to appeal for such involvement. "No one can take the risk after the laws are enacted," he said. 

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate approved the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which imposes sanctions on banks that conduct business with Chinese officials involved in cracking down on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, sending the bill to President Donald Trump for his signature. 

Earlier this week, U.S. officials announced that Washington would end exports of defense equipment to Hong Kong and abolish the city's preferential access to technologies with potential military applications.

Law, 26, was the youngest lawmaker in Hong Kong before he was ousted from the legislature three years ago. He served jail time over his role in the Occupy Central protests, also known as the Umbrella Movement, in 2014. He later co-founded the pro-democracy group Demosisto with fellow activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Agnes Chow Ting. The group was dissolved as the security law came into effect.

"So I bade my city farewell," Law wrote on his post. "As the plane took off the runway, I gazed down at the skyline I love so much for one last time," he wrote. "Should I have the fortune to ever return, I hope to still remain as I am: the same young man with these same beliefs. Glory to Hong Kong."

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