July 29 (UPI) — Hong Kong Police on Wednesday arrested four student protesters for creating a new organization promoting Hong Kong independence, becoming some of the first people to be arrested under a new controversial national security law.
Senior Superintendent Li Wai-wah of the police’s newly created National Security Department told reporters that the three males and one female between the ages of 16 and 21 were arrested at about 3 p.m. Wednesday in separate locations throughout the city.
Referring to them as a “syndicate,” Li said the four students had broken a new but controversial national security law that went into effect July 1 that criminalizes acts of secession, sedition, subversion, terrorism and working with foreign agencies to undermine the national security of China in Hong Kong.
The four students were accused of creating an organization to unite all pro-independence groups in Hong Kong, Li said, explaining the action was in breach of articles 20 and 21 of the new law, which concern acts of secession.
“We found that this organization posted in a social media of the establishment of a new party that will promote the independence of Hong Kong,” he said.
Police did not reveal the suspects’ names but prominent Hong Kong activists said one of those who were detained was Tony Chung, a member of Studentlocalism, a pro-Hong Kong independence group.
“Arrestes’ mobile phones were hacked by unknown Huawei and Samsung phones soon after their arrests,” Wong tweeted. “Tonight’s arrest will clearly send a chilling effect on [Hong Kong] online speech.”
Studentlocalism confirmed via Twitter that four of its members were arrested, stating they were being detained at three separate police stations and would be giving their statements on Thursday.
“The four will not be released on bail,” it said
The pro-independence group disbanded on June 30 ahead of the new national security law going into effect but a U.S. division was formed on July 18 to “persevere our belief of ‘defend localism, students’ mission,’ until the day Hong Kong becomes an independent nation.”
The national security law has been widely condemned by Western nations and has caused relations to sour with China, who has repeatedly demanded other countries to stop meddling in its internal affairs.
Activists, as well as White House officials, have said the new security law will be the end of Hong Kong’s autonomy from mainland China, which the city was promised for 50 years when it was returned to Beijing in 1997 from British rule.
Several people have been arrested under the new national security law, mostly for waving pro-democracy banners.
The first person arrested under the law was a man holding a black flag at Causeway Bay calling for the city’s independence on July 1.