Hong Kong police have issued arrest warrants for six pro-democracy activists living in exile, the first time the city’s authorities have used a sweeping new law to target campaigners living outside Hong Kong.
They include Samuel Chu, an American citizen who lives in the US, Nathan Law, a prominent campaigner who recently relocated to the UK after fleeing Hong Kong, and Simon Cheng, a former British consular staffer who was granted asylum in the UK after alleging he was tortured in China.
Chinese state media reported that the six men were wanted for “incitement to secession and collusion with foreign forces”.
The move comes a month after China introduced a controversial national security law in Hong Kong. China said the legislation targets the crimes of “secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces” and carries penalties as severe as life in prison.
Critics warned that it would be used to target legitimate opposition, and highlighted the unusual decision to make the law applicable to both Hong Kong residents and non-residents. That apparently gives China jurisdiction beyond its own borders.
Chu, who runs the Hong Kong Democracy Council, a Washington DC-based advocacy organization dedicated to furthering Hong Kong’s freedom and democracy, is the first person targeted under this aspect of the law.
He said China was sending a clear message to other activists by ordering his arrest.
“I would really emphasize how outrageous this really is,” Chu told the Guardian. “I am the first non-Chinese citizen that essentially is being targeted. I think they do intend to try to make this an example.”
Several countries have since suspended their extradition treaties with Hong Kong, including the UK, Australia and Germany, as a possible safeguard against attempts to use the national security laws to round up activists abroad. The US ordered an end to Hong Kong’s special economic status earlier in July.
Chu, who has lived in the US as an American citizen since 1996, said the charges amounted to China “targeting a US citizen for lobbying my own government”.
“We always knew that when the national security law went into effect there was a very troubling and illogical, irrational idea that they were claiming jurisdiction over anyone who is not even a Hong Kong resident, who is anywhere in the world, doing anything that they deemed threatening,” he said.
The other activists charged wereRay Wong, Wayne Chan and Honcques Laus.
Wong, who is currently in the UK, told Reuters the charges showed that the Chinese government was afraid of the advocacy work of Hong Kong activists internationally.
“I think they want to cut off our connection with people in Hong Kong … it will make people fear that they may violate the national security law by contacting us,” Wong said.