The Hong Kong government has defended the arrests of more than 80 people on National Day last week as lawful and “necessary” after the US condemned the action over the weekend, accusing local authorities of continuing to use “law enforcement for political purposes”.
In a strongly worded statement issued by the US State Department on Saturday, Washington said the government was complicit in the Communist Party’s “evisceration” of the city’s autonomy.
The remarks came two days after the arrest of at least 86 people on suspicion of taking part in an unauthorised assembly and other offences last Thursday, which marked the 71st anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.
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More than 6,000 riot police patrolled the city that day, setting up roadblocks while stopping and searching passers-by to stamp out any large rallies.
“By repressing peaceful public opinion, the Hong Kong government once again shows its complicity with the Chinese Communist Party’s evisceration of Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms of its people,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
“We deplore the local authorities’ continued use of law enforcement for political purposes, which is contrary to the preservation of the rule of law, and respect for human rights, including the rights to assembly and free expression.”
The arrests had again underscored Beijing’s “complete dismantlement” of the “one country, two systems” guiding principle of Hong Kong, she said.
Responding to the comments, a Hong Kong government spokesman maintained that the arrests were necessary to ensure order and protect the lives and property of residents. He accused the US of adopting “double standards” towards law enforcement action in the city.
Adding that the government “strongly deplored” the State Department’s remarks, the spokesman noted that the freedoms of procession and assembly were not absolute, and were subject to legal restrictions.
“Hong Kong affairs are internal matters of the [People’s Republic of China],” he continued. “Foreign governments should stop scaremongering and interfering in any form in Hong Kong’s affairs.”
The financial hub has been at the forefront of the strained US-China relationship. Last Wednesday, the US again drew the ire of Chinese authorities by proposing to give residents priority resettlement in America as refugees.
On Sunday, Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a member of city leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s Executive Council, defended the sweeping national security law, and dismissed Western concerns it undermined the city’s freedoms.
“There are no mass arrests of dissidents and no shutting down of the media,” Tong said on a radio programme. “Quite the contrary, people continue to criticise the central and [special administrative region] governments both publicly, in the media, as well as over personal social media.”
He also said the security law, which was imposed by Beijing three months ago, had put Hong Kong back on track, and there had been no additional restrictions on marches, rallies or other protests, “save those necessarily imposed by reason of Covid-19”.
New People’s Party lawmaker Eunice Yung Hoi-yan also defended the law as clearly drafted, something its critics deny, and argued its interpretation should be left to the courts to handle.
She also claimed that “possessing” leaflets or stickers carrying slogans deemed to espouse separatist views was akin to “displaying” them, which she said was banned under the law.
But Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu countered, saying it was “ridiculous” for police to consider people who possessed such materials as breaching the new law.
Instead of leaving everything to the courts, Yeung said society should also look into the enforcement of the new law and the prosecutions that followed over the past three months, which he described as worrying.
More from South China Morning Post:
- As Hong Kong police crack down on scattered protesters on National Day, ordinary residents fume over heavy security blanket
- National Day: at least 86 people arrested in Hong Kong for illegal assembly or other offences