Hong Kong police have arrested five people on suspicion of financially aiding activists abroad, just days after they offered bounties for information leading to the arrest of eight pro-democracy figures living in self-imposed exile.
Four, ages 26 to 28, were arrested on Wednesday for conspiracy to collude with foreign forces, according to the police’s national security department – the offense Beijing outlawed in the semi-autonomous city under a national security law introduced three years ago. A day later, police arrested a fifth man, 24, at the Hong Kong International Airport.
They were also detained for conspiracy to sedition, a colonial-era offense, which activists say has been increasingly used in recent years by police to stifle the legitimate criticism of authorities.
While the police have not revealed the identities of the four, local activist Ivan Lam was photographed being taken away by officers. A legal source has confirmed that he is among those arrested.
The arrests came after police put bounties of 1 million Hong Kong dollars ($128,000) each on eight pro-democracy activists abroad, accusing them of violating national security offenses, in a move strongly condemned by rights groups and Western governments.
The bounties were seen as the most drastic law enforcement action since the initial arrests that followed the introduction of the Beijing-imposed law in June, 2020.
The sweeping law was imposed after huge pro-democracy protests roiled the city the year before.
Activists, human rights groups and Western governments say the law, which criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers, has eroded freedoms in the city.
Hong Kong and Beijing authorities say the law restored order in the city following the protests.
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee, a former police officer and security chief, on Monday warned activists abroad they would be pursued “for life,” as officials in the United States, Britain and Australia – where most of the eight on the wanted list now live – called for the bounties to be withdrawn.
In the Wednesday statement, police said they’d searched the homes and offices of the four arrested and seized documents and electronic communication devices.
“Investigation revealed that the arrested persons were suspected of receiving funds from operating companies, social media platforms and mobile applications to support people who have fled overseas and continue to engage in activities that endanger national security,” the statement said.
“They were also suspected of repeatedly publishing posts with seditious intention on social media platforms,” the statement added.
The suspects were accused of posting content that provoked hatred towards Beijing and the Hong Kong government, while advocating “Hong Kong Independence.” The police did not provide examples of the posts.