Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam has urged parents and teachers to report on teenagers who break the law as police in the Chinese-controlled city arrested nine people, including six secondary school students, over an alleged bomb plot.
Lam’s comment on Tuesday comes amid seething anger and frustration in Hong Kong over a China-led crackdown including a sweeping national security law and electoral changes that bar politicians deemed disloyal to Beijing.
“For a long time, citizens have been exposed to wrong ideas, such as achieving justice through illegal means,” Lam told reporters at her weekly press conference. National security risks do not only stem from “public order” acts, but also ideology, she said, ordering government departments not to allow “illegal ideas to filter through to the public through education, broadcasting, arts and culture”.
“I also call on parents, principals, teachers, and even pastors to observe acts of teenagers around them,” she added. “If some teens are found to be committing illegal acts, they must be reported.”
Hong Kong has taken a swift authoritarian turn since China’s imposition of the national security law last year. Critics say the legislation, enacted to quell dissent after huge pro-democracy protests in 2019, has eroded Hong Kong’s freedoms, with the government’s most prominent opponents now either in jail or in exile.
About an hour after Lam spoke, a new national security unit that was set up under the law announced that it had foiled an alleged bomb plot, saying it had arrested five males and four females aged between 15 and 39 the previous day on suspicion of “conspiracy to use explosives for terrorist activities”.
Senior Superintendent Steve Li said the group was attempting to make the explosive triacetone triperoxide (TATP) in a homemade laboratory in a hostel, and planned to use the explosives to bomb courts, cross-harbour tunnels and railways.
The group even planned to put some of the explosives in rubbish bins on the street “to maximise damage caused to the society”.
Li said the nine belonged to a pro-independence group that called itself “Returning Valiant” and said the group all planned to leave Hong Kong for good. He added that the nine were planning to conduct the sabotage before they left the city.
News of the arrests came just days after a 50-year-old man took his own life after stabbing a police officer in what authorities said was a “lone wolf” attack.
People went to the scene of the attack on Friday, some with children, to pay their respects to the attacker and lay flowers, drawing condemnation from Lam and other officials.
Lam said residents should not be deceived by messages circulating online suggesting the government had any responsibility for the violence, or by slogans such as “there’s no violence, only tyranny.”
“Do not look for excuses on behalf of the violent,” Lam said.