The detention of the four, one just 16, is the first under legislation that was imposed by Beijing earlier this month.
Hong Kong police have arrested four people, the youngest just 16, for suspected offences under the city’s new national security law, the first such detentions outside of street protests since the legislation took effect a month ago.
In a press conference shortly before midnight on Wednesday, a police spokesman said the three men and a woman, all students, were suspected of being involved in an online group that pledged to use every means to fight for an independent Hong Kong.
“We arrested for … subversions and for the organising and also the inciting [of] secession,” said Li Kwai-wah, police superintendent at the Hong Kong National Security Department.
“They wanted to unite all the independent groups in Hong Kong for the view to promote the independence of Hong Kong.”
Student Localism, a group that used to advocate independence, said in a statement that its former leader Tony Chung, 19, was among those arrested.
Beijing says the national security law is needed to end unrest and restore stability – and claims it will not affect people’s political freedoms.
Human Rights Watch condemned the arrests and urged governments to impose targeted sanctions on Hong Kong and Chinese government officials responsible for the new law.
“The gross misuse of this draconian law makes clear that the aim is to silence dissent, not protect national security,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.
The legislation outlaws what Beijing loosely defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
It has been condemned by some Western governments, business leaders and human rights groups who say it is an attempt by Beijing to tighten its grip over China’s freest city. In response, they have suspended extradition treaties with Hong Kong and loosened migration rules for Hong Kong residents.
Beijing says the law is crucial to plug gaping holes in national security defences exposed by months of sometimes violent anti-government protests that began in June 2019.
Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong say the law will be used to target only a minority of “troublemakers”.
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