‘Purgatory of the Orient’: World reacts to Hong Kong mass arrests

Taiwan calls arrests ‘shocking’ as cabinet pick for US President-elect Joe Biden promises to ‘stand with people of Hong Kong’.

Ben Chung, front centre, of a pro-democracy political group is arrested by police in the Central district after as many as 50 Hong Kong opposition figures were arrested in Hong Kong on January 6, 2021 [Peter Parks/ AFP]

Hong Kong police have arrested more than 50 leading democratic activists on suspicion of violating a controversial security law, prompting alarm and condemnation in the city and beyond.

Wednesday’s swoop marked the biggest crackdown since Beijing imposed the law last year. It was linked to an unofficial, independently organised vote in July 2020 to select opposition candidates for a legislative election that has since been postponed.

Beijing had blasted the primaries as illegal, calling it a “serious provocation” of Hong Kong’s electoral system.

Here is a round-up of reaction to the sweeping arrests.

Hong Kong

Sunny Cheung, a participant of the primaries, said “this is once again hard proof that the Hong Kong Legislative Council is a rubber stamp” for China’s parliament or the National People’s Congress.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) “hopes to stifle all traces of democracy in the city. Hong Kong would only be left with ‘dissidents’ who are loyal to the CCP.”

Nathan Law, a Hong Kong activist who fled the city for the United Kingdom, said the “suppression of political freedom and freedom of speech by the National Security Law has risen to another level”. In a Facebook post, he added: “Hong Kong people must remember this hatred. Anyone who is still defending the National Security Law and making peace is the enemy of Hong Kong people.”

Antony Dapiran, a Hong Kong-based lawyer and author of several books on the city’s protest movement, called the arrests “the largest single attack upon democracy” in Hong Kong yet.

Mainland China

Beijing defended the Hong Kong police’s actions, with a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry saying the rights and freedoms of the city’s residents were not affected.

Hua Chunying said the only damage was to “the kind of freedom of some external forces and individuals in Hong Kong to collude with each other to attempt to undermine China’s stability and security”.


Taiwan’s government said it was shocked by the clampdown and said Hong Kong has changed from the “pearl of the Orient” to “purgatory of the Orient”.

Lai Ching-te, the Taiwanese vice president, said, “China’s crackdown on democracy will not be ignored by the world … This is unacceptable.”

United States

Antony Blinken, US President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for secretary of state, called the sweeping arrests “an assault on those bravely advocating for universal rights”.

He added in a tweet: “The Biden-Harris administration will stand with the people of Hong Kong and against Beijing’s crackdown on democracy.”

Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate select committee on intelligence, said Chinese President Xi Jinping “sees a divided and distracted America, and isn’t wasting the moment”.

“These despicable raids expose the Chinese Communist Party for the cowardly dictators they are.”


Marise Payne, the Australian foreign minister, said she was concerned by the arrests.

“Australia has consistently expressed concern that the National Security Law is eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy, democratic principles and rule of law,” she said in a statement.

Human rights groups

Maya Wang at the Human Rights Watch said the arrests suggest that Beijing has failed to learn that repression generates resistance.

“The Chinese government has decided to mark 2021 with sweeping arrests of over 50 prominent pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, removing the remaining veneer of democracy in the city,” she said.

“Beijing once again has failed to learn from its mistakes in Hong Kong: that repression generates resistance, and that millions of Hong Kong people will persist in their struggle for their right to vote and run for office in a democratically elected government.”

Yamini Mishra of Amnesty International said the crackdown “is the starkest demonstration yet of how the national security law has been weaponized to punish anyone who dares to challenge the establishment”.

“The Hong Kong government must stop this dangerous practice of treating critics as criminals and threats to national security. Unless there is evidence that those arrested today have committed an internationally recognised criminal offence, they should be immediately released.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies