The Hong Kong police’s new national security unit made a series of arrests over a university protest last month, a case that has heightened concerns about an erosion of academic freedom in the Asian financial hub.
Eight males including students, social workers and local district councilors were arrested Monday on allegations of participating in an unlawful assembly on Nov. 19 at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, police told a news conference later in the day. Three of them were also accused of chanting slogans, holding up banners or spray-painting messages promoting Hong Kong independence, a potential violation of the China-drafted security law imposed on the city in June.
“Throughout the one-hour procession inside the campus, some of them were shouting slogans that were pro-Hong Kong independence and displaying banners that also involved pro-Hong Kong independence -- that’s the reason we made the arrests,” said Senior Superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah, of the police’s National Security Department. He added that “law enforcement action will continue.”
The arrests relate to a campus protest last month, where many students attended their graduation ceremony in yellow hard harts and gas masks -- equipment preferred by the frontline protesters during the city’s 2019 unrest -- along with their traditional black robes. Chinese University said in a statement that it called the police to report the protest, which it said disrupted a “solemn” graduation ceremony.
Police had previously said they were investigating the protest for suspected violations of the national security law. China’s top legislative body imposed the measure banning secession, terrorism, subversion and collusion with foreign forces on June 30 without debate by local lawmakers.
While Chief Executive Carrie Lam has sought to play down limits on constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech and expression, the government has invoked the law to ban support for Hong Kong independence or even more ambiguous slogans such as “Liberate Hong Kong! Revolution of our times!”
Protesters “displayed banners and flags, as well as chanted slogans advocating ‘Hong Kong independence,’” and vandalized the campus with spray paint, police said about the demonstration last month. “Police attach great importance to and severely condemn the blatant violation of the National Security Law and criminal damages at the campus,” the police said at the time.