Attorney General William Barr and other U.S. leaders condemned the Chinese government’s move to arrest more than a dozen leaders from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement for alleged crimes stemming from last year’s mass protests.
“I condemn the latest assault on the rule of law and the liberty of the people of Hong Kong,” Barr said on Saturday. “These events show how antithetical the values of the Chinese Communist Party are to those we share in Western liberal democracies. These actions — along with its malign influence activity and industrial espionage here in the United States — demonstrate once again that the Chinese Communist Party cannot be trusted.”
Over the weekend, the ruling Chinese Communist Party arrested 15 of the key leaders of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, a former British colony with semi-autonomous status, in an effort to continue to crack down on anti-authoritarian thought in the city following protests that rocked it last year. Some were released on bail over the weekend, and all must appear in court on May 18.
The mass demonstrations, which swept Hong Kong last fall, centered on a since-abandoned effort by Hong Kong’s China-dominated government attempting to impose extradition laws, which would allow citizens of Hong Kong to be brought to mainland China to be tried for crimes. Those protests quickly gave rise to the broadest civil unrest under Chinese rule since China assumed sovereignty over the former colony in 1997.
Protest leaders believe the new arrests, tied to their alleged roles in last year’s protests in August and October, show Beijing is prioritizing the repression of Hong Kong over responding to the coronavirus crisis.
Avery Ng, a pro-democracy advocate who was among those arrested over the weekend, told Reuters, “This is all happening while we are in midst of a pandemic” and that “the world is dealing with this virus, but this signals that Beijing still sees a political crackdown in Hong Kong is a top priority.”
Martin Lee, a lawmaker and founder of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, was also arrested.
“Finally I’ve become a defendant. How do I feel? I’m very much relieved,” Lee told Agence France-Presse this weekend. “For so many years, so many months, so many good youngsters were arrested and charged, while I was not arrested. I feel sorry about it.”
Jimmy Lai, the wealthy media publishing tycoon, was also among those arrested. Lai is the owner of Next Media Group, which publishes Apple Daily, a very popular pro-democracy website and newspaper, which frequently criticizes the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong and in China. Lai was previously arrested in February on similar charges.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson pushed back against comments by U.S. leaders over the weekend, according to a statement released by Chinese state-run Xinhua News.
“The Office of the Commissioner of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Sunday refuted U.S. politicians who openly attempted to exonerate anti-China troublemakers in Hong Kong,” the Chinese Communist Party-run outlet said. “It serves as another evidence of their collusion with the local troublemakers, which deserves condemnation by the entire international community.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said this weekend that the U.S. “condemns the arrest of pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong” and noted that “Beijing and its representatives in Hong Kong continue to take actions inconsistent with commitments made under the Sino-British Joint Declaration that include transparency, the rule of law, and guarantees that Hong Kong will continue to enjoy a high degree of autonomy.”