HONG KONG -- Hong Kong police on Monday arrested three activists for allegedly attempting to incite subversion through distributing M&M's chocolates and other daily goods to prisoners.
Steve Li, senior superintendent of the police national security bureau, told reporters the trio aimed at fomenting "war" or "revolution" against the governments of Hong Kong and China.
He spoke after officers had raided a warehouse linked to the group, carrying out around 40 cartons including a dozen clear plastic storage boxes containing M&M's, crackers, wet wipes, baby powder and other such products.
Hong Kong's correctional service tightly controls the items that can be provided to those serving prison terms or detained before trial. Secretary for Security Chris Tang had told reporters earlier in the month that some inmates had been accumulated supplies of hair clips, chocolates and other such products to "try to establish certain influence in jail and endanger national security."
In Tang's account, the goods "create privilege" behind bars. Referring to political detainees, he said that they "canvass followers in there, and they establish sphere of influence by using this privilege" which he said "further add hatred to Hong Kong and the central governments thereby endangering national security."
Earlier this month, staff of a detention center had found hairpins and other "prohibited articles" during a surprise search of the cells of six inmates, including Tiffany Yuen, a former opposition district councilor. This touched off a protest by 18 fellow inmates, leading the prison to mobilize a riot control task force and a dog unit.
Those arrested Monday, two men and a woman aged between 18 and 20, are members of a group called Student Politicism and include Wong Yat-chin, its convener, and Secretary General Chan Chi-sum.
Last week, Wall-fare, another advocacy group distributing materials to detainees, suddenly announced its dissolution.
Asked about its move, Tang said then, "It's their own decision whether to dissolve."
Inciting subversion is one of the four offenses under the national security law imposed on Hong Kong last year by Beijing, along with separatism, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces. Each is potentially punishable by life imprisonment.
Monday's warehouse raid came a day after the police force deployed around 6,000 officers to ensure safety as around 5,000 ballots were cast in the city's Election Committee at five polling stations. No incidents were reported amid the quiet voting, except for one small attempted protest that was restrained by officers.
A government spokesman later thanked the force for support "such that the elections could be conducted in a safe and orderly manner."