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Hong Kong invokes new law to cancel passports of 6 overseas-based activists

Hong Kong invokes new law to cancel passports of 6 overseas-based activists

HONG KONG (AP): The Hong Kong government on Wednesday canceled the passports of six overseas-based activists under the new national security law, stepping up its crackdown on dissidents who moved abroad.

Among them were former pro-democracy lawmaker Nathan Law, unionist Mung Siu-tat and activists Simon Cheng, Finn Lau, Johnny Fok and Tony Choi — all accused of endangering national security by authorities in the southern Chinese city. The government said they have “absconded” to the UK.

Last year, police offered rewards of 1 million Hong Kong dollars ($128,000) each for information leading to their arrests and drew sharp criticism from Western governments.

Authorities also banned anyone from providing funds or economic resources to the six, leasing properties to them or forming any joint venture with them, or risk a penalty of up to seven years in prison.

The government said it acted because the six were continuing to engage in activities that endanger national security, smearing the city and colluding with external forces.

“We have to combat, deter and to prevent those people who have committed the offenses relating to endangering national security through absconds,” said Secretary for Security Chris Tang said. He said the six activists were sheltered in the UK and accused some British officials and media outlets of attempting to damage the rule of law in the financial hub and influence judicial decisions in some national security cases.

Tang, when asked whether subscribing to the activists’ accounts on Patreon and YouTube is illegal, said anyone who provides funds to them would be seen as violating the rules, regardless of the platform.

The measures were taken under the new powers granted by Hong Kong’s homegrown national security law enacted in March.

Beijing imposed a similar national security law on the territory in 2020 that has effectively wiped out most public dissent following huge anti-government protests in 2019. Many activists were arrested, silenced or forced into self-exile.

Both the Chinese and Hong Kong governments insisted the law restored stability after the protests.

Over 144,400 people from Hong Kong have moved to the UK using a special visa that allows them to live and work in the country and apply for British citizenship after six years. The UK introduced the pathway in 2021, in response to the 2020 security law.

Additionally, the British government granted asylum to activists Law and Cheng.

Law said on Facebook he had submitted his passport to UK authorities when he applied for asylum in 2020, and has not collected it back, calling the government’s statement “a redundant move.” He urged people who remain in Hong Kong to prioritize their safety if the other restrictions under the new law worry them.

Lau said on X that he never owned a Hong Kong passport, so “it is ridiculous to cancel something that never exists.” He said the latest measure is an act of transnational repression, but that it would not deter him from advocating for human rights and democracy.

Mung also vowed to continue to fight for Hong Kong, while Cheng said the government’s moves were politically motivated and ineffective, adding that their lives in the UK would not be affected.

In Beijing, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said the measures taken by Hong Kong authorities were legitimate and necessary to safeguard the city’s rule of law and national security. He stressed that the city’s affairs are China’s internal affairs and “brook no external interference.”

Hong Kong’s political changes have long been a source of tension between the UK and the city government, as well as with Beijing due to the territory’s unique history as a former British colony that was returned to China in 1997 with a promise to keep freedoms of expression and assembly.

Last week, two British judges confirmed they resigned from the city’s top court, with one citing as the reason “the political situation in Hong Kong.” The other published a strongly worded article on Monday that said the rule of law in the city is in “grave danger” and that judges operate in an “impossible political environment created by China.”

That article drew swift criticism from the Hong Kong government.

In May, UK authorities charged three men with agreeing to engage in information gathering, surveillance and acts of deception that were likely to materially assist the Hong Kong intelligence service. One of the trio was later found dead in a park.

Chinese authorities in the UK and Hong Kong have decried the charges, saying they were the latest in a series of “groundless and slanderous” accusations that the UK government has leveled against China.