HONG KONG, CHINA - JULY 01: Riot police officers charge up escalators and shoot pepperball projectiles at a shopping mall during a anti-national security law demonstration on July 1, 2020 in Hong Kong, China. Hong Kong marks the 23rd anniversary of its handover to China on July 1 after Beijing imposed the new national security law. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
Hong Kong's new national security law explained
03:20 - Source: CNN
Hong Kong CNN  — 

Hong Kong police have issued arrest warrants for six overseas-based democracy activists who are alleged to have breached the city’s newly imposed national security law, according to Chinese state media.

The six include United States citizen and resident Samuel Chu and Nathan Law, a former Hong Kong lawmaker and prominent pro-democracy campaigner who fled the city and is now living in London, according to the report.

The issuing of the warrant appears to mark the first time that authorities have used the new national security law, imposed by Beijing on June 30, to target activists based outside of the city.

The law criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference, and it applies to offenses committed “outside the region” by foreigners who are not residents of Hong Kong or China.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported that the six are wanted on suspicion of inciting secession and colluding with foreign countries, but did not give any further details. In response to a CNN request for comment, a Hong Kong Police spokesperson said the “police do not comment on media reports.”

US national Chu, who is the managing director of the Hong Kong Democracy Council, a Washington DC-based advocacy group promoting freedom and autonomy for Hong Kong, appears to be the first known non-Hong Kong citizen to be targeted under the new security law.

In a twitter post Friday, Chu said in ordering his arrest, China was effectively targeting a US citizen for the act of lobbying his own government. “I might be the 1st non-Chinese citizen to be targeted, but I will not be the last. If I am targeted, any American/any citizen of any nation who speaks out for HK can-and will be-too, said Chu. “We are all Hong Kongers now,” he added.

According to Chu’s biography, he has lived in the US as an American citizen for more than two decades. In a statement posted online, the United States China Commission, a congressional-executive body that monitors human rights and the rule of law in China, called on the Hong Kong government to repudiate the warrant and for the United Nations to begin urgent talks on the national security law and the deteriorating human rights conditions in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong government has defended the law as necessary to protect national security, and promised that it would only affect a tiny number of people.

“The national security law is a crucial step to ending chaos and violence that has occurred over the past few months,” Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, said in July. “It’s a law that has been introduced to keep Hong Kong safe. The legislation is lawful, constitutional and reasonable.”

The announcement of the arrest warrants comes after Hong Kong disqualified 12 pro-democracy candidates from standing in now postponed legislative elections, including pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong.

On Friday the Hong Kong government announced the poll, that was set to take place in September, would be delayed for one year citing concerns over the city’s continuing coronavirus outbreak. However, activists have claimed the government is using the pandemic as an excuse to postpone the election to avoid a potential loss.

In recent weeks, several countries have suspended their extradition treaties with Hong Kong, including the United Kingdom and Australia. On Friday, Germany joined that list following the city’s decision to postpone elections, according to German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

Who are the wanted activists?

Law, the former lawmaker and democracy activist who was a leader of the 2014 pro-democracy student led Umbrella Movement, said on his Facebook page, “I have no idea what is my ‘crime’ and I don’t think that’s even important. These are trumped-up charges. Perhaps, in the end, the answer is that I love Hong Kong too much.”

Law fled Hong Kong for London shortly the national security law came into effect, saying he left for his safety but pledged to continue to fight for the territory’s democratic future. He was elected as a lawmaker in 2016, but was disqualified from office by Hong Kong courts after Beijing enacted a rarely-used power to “reinterpret” the city’s constitution.

Law said that since leaving Hong Kong he has had to “sever” his relationship with his family.

“I was prepared when I left Hong Kong to be in exile; but this becoming a reality still disappoints, incapacitates, and frightens me. Indeed who can enjoy freedom from fear in the face of China’s powerful political machine?” he said on social media. “What we can choose is how to respond to this fear: For me, it’s with action.”

Pro-democracy activist Nathan Law on June 19, 2020 in Hong Kong.

Other activists targeted include Simon Cheng, a former employee of the British consulate in Hong Kong who was granted asylum in the United Kingdom after alleging that he was tortured in China and interrogated by secret police about the city’s pro-democracy protests, and Hong Kong pro-independence activists Ray Wong, Honcques Laus and Wayne Chan.

Wong, who was granted asylum in Germany in 2018, said on his official Twitter account that he “no longer advocate(s)” for Hong Kong’s independence from mainland China and has not said anything relating to independence since the implementation of the national security law on July 1.

Wong accused the Hong Kong government of applying the law retroactively, saying “The only reason why I was sought for ‘incitement to secession and collusion with foreign forces ’ must be based on my activities before the NSL is in force.”

The city’s leader Lam and other Hong Kong officials have repeatedly said the law will “have no retrospective effect.”

Laus, who said in a Facebook post that he is in the UK, called the arrest warrant “political persecution” and said he will “continue to express my political opinion freely.” He called on the international community to “impose sanctions” on the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, including Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Journalist Vanesse Chan contributed to this report.