Hong Kong charges six people under homegrown national security law

Police arrest the group for ‘seditious’ social media posts under Article 23, which was pushed through in March.

Protesters gather in front of the Foreign office in the UK to protest Article 23
Demonstrators outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office in London protest against Hong Kong's new national security law in March 2024 [Justin Tallis/AFP]

Hong Kong’s national security police have charged six people for allegedly seditious posts on Facebook, in the first arrests under a newly-enacted domestic security law.

Police said those arrested included a woman who, with the help of five others, had used a social media page to anonymously publish the posts starting in April.

“[They] provoke hatred against the central government, the Hong Kong government and the city’s judicial institutions, and aim to incite netizens to organise or participate in illegal activities during a later period,” the police statement said.

The statement did not reveal details about the social media page or the content of the posts and did not identify the six people, aged 37 to 65.

Local media said the woman was Chow Hang-tung, a prominent barrister and pro-democracy activist who is already in jail on other charges.

Speaking to reporters later on Tuesday, the Chinese territory’s Security Minister Chris Tang said that the arrests were made in connection with a Facebook group set up in support of Chow, who has been in jail since September 2021 under a security law that was imposed by Beijing after mass protests in 2019.

According to the Hong Kong Free Press, the posts were said to be linked to an “upcoming sensitive date” to “incite hatred” against the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing, and “incite” people to organise or take part in “illegal activities”.

The 35th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square, when the Chinese military opened fire on students who had been protesting for months in central Beijing, falls on June 4.

Chow was one of the organisers of Hong Kong’s annual vigil for the hundreds and possibly thousands who died, until it was banned during the pandemic and then under the Beijing-imposed security law. It was the only public commemoration in China of the crackdown.

“Concerning the sensitive date, actually I think the date itself was not important,” Tang told reporters in Cantonese, according to the HKFP. “The most important thing is that these people who intend to endanger national security made use of this subject to incite hatred,” he continued.

The domestic national security law came into force in March after pro-Beijing lawmakers passed it unanimously, nearly four years after Beijing imposed its own national security law on the territory.

The Safeguarding National Security Law expands the government’s power to crush dissent with anyone found guilty of “endangering national security” facing a life sentence.

Known locally as Article 23, the new law focuses on five types of crime: treason, insurrection, sabotage that endangers national security, external interference in Hong Kong’s affairs, and espionage and theft of state secrets.

The law expands the government’s ability to close down civil society organisations and prosecute residents for offences like collaborating with foreign forces to influence legislation or publishing “misleading statements”. It is also designed to jail people who damage public infrastructure.

Some of its provisions, which mirror the Beijing legislation, threaten criminal prosecutions for acts committed anywhere in the world.

The Chinese-imposed law led to the arrest or flight into exile of hundreds of pro-democracy activists, politicians and public figures. Hundreds are in prison awaiting trial in courts by specially-selected judges.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies