Hong Kong police’s national security unit is investigating a university student and his mother on suspicion of inciting secession after they were arrested over a cache of weapons at a flat in Fanling.
The specialised unit took over the case on Friday, while police separately banned a major anti-government march planned for National Day, citing Covid-19 rules and the threat to public order.
A day after the mother and son, aged 49 and 23 respectively, were placed in custody on suspicion of selling the weapons over the internet, police listed more accusations against them.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
Further investigation revealed the pair had called for Hong Kong’s independence on a variety of social media platforms and claimed to have thrown pungent smelling objects at police during an unauthorised rally in Kowloon on September 6, according to police.
The pair had also declared they would use more powerful weapons against officers at future protests.
Senior Superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah, of the police department set up to enforce the national security law, said the two had published inciteful messages online before and after the Beijing-imposed legislation took effect on June 30.
“We discovered [the suspects] had sold the weapons via a social networking site,” Li said. “On top of that, they had a large amount of digital illustrations calling for independence and spreading hatred.”
The illustrations allegedly contained words such as “resist communism” and “be valiant”.
“Publication of posters that advocate independence or hatred constitutes the offence of inciting secession,” he said. “By selling such items on online platforms, accompanied by such inciteful messages, the sellers may pose a risk to us.”
The mother and son were arrested at their Yan Hiu House flat at Yan Shing Court at around 2am on Thursday. Officers found a pepper ball launcher, a bulletproof vest, a retractable baton, two military knives, three air guns and 15 military gas masks in the flat. The student is in his first year at Polytechnic University, the Post understands.
The weapons were believed to have been bought through an overseas online shopping platform and the two posted pictures of the items to help sell them, Li said.
Police would investigate whether the suspects intended to push for independence using the seized weapons, he added.
Without commenting on individual cases, a Polytechnic University spokeswoman said the institution would seriously follow up any incidents involving students breaking the law.
The national security law criminalises acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with a minimum jail term of 10 years for serious offences.
With the combined impact of the new law and social-distancing measures, anti-government protests have been far below the scale of last year’s opposition to the since-withdrawn extradition bill, but the movement continues.
The Civil Human Rights Front this year was organising the annual mass rally for October 1 to voice opposition to the national security law and show concern over the detention of 12 Hong Kong fugitives captured by the mainland coastguard while trying to flee to Taiwan. They are currently being held across the border in Shenzhen.
In denying permission for the rally, Senior Superintendent Ng Lok-chun said social-distancing regulations that limited public gatherings to four people could not be disregarded.
“It would be illegal to stage or take part in the public rally, and public order will be destroyed,” he wrote in a letter of objection seen by the Post.
Previous rallies organised by the front had turned violent and public facilities were damaged, Ng noted. The force was concerned about a repeat of such incidents and warned that anyone who organised or took part in an unlawful assembly could be jailed for five years.
The letter was sent to the front’s deputy convenor Figo Chan Ho-wun, who said the organisation would appeal against the decision. Police were simply trying to stop Hongkongers from venting their anger against the government, he argued.
“In the past eight months, people’s discontent about the government’s handling of the pandemic has been consistently suppressed,” Chan told a radio programme. “If the city’s legislature cuts police officers’ pay, I wonder if they would take to the streets, too.”
Chan did not reveal whether the front would proceed with the march if the appeal were rejected.
In his letter, the senior superintendent said the front would be unable to control outbreaks of violence, which would pose a threat to people’s safety.
“Participants, residents, reporters and police officers were injured in [previous] clashes or violent incidents,” Ng said. “Some protesters did not only engage in violence, arson and large-scale road blocks, they even used petrol bombs, ball bearings, bricks, spears, iron rods and other home-made weapons to destroy public properties.”
More from South China Morning Post:
- National security law: Hong Kong civil servants worried over planned loyalty pledge, with union asking bureau to define ‘red line’
- Will there be a Hong Kong protest march on October 1? Organiser urges people to ‘use your own ways’ as police ban looms