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Hong Kong Police Make Arrests          07/01 06:23

   

   HONG KONG (AP) -- Hong Kong police made their first arrests under a new 
national security law imposed by China's central government, arresting at least 
seven people suspected of violating the legislation during protests Wednesday.

   At least two people were arrested for carrying flags and signs calling for 
Hong Kong's independence.

   One man with a Hong Kong independence flag was arrested at a protest in the 
city's Causeway Bay shopping district after police issued multiple warnings to 
the crowd that they might be in violation of the law, according to a police 
statement on Twitter.

   Police later arrested another woman for holding up a sign displaying the 
British flag and calling for Hong Kong's independence. Further details were not 
immediately available.

   Hong Kong police said on Facebook that they had arrested more than 180 
people on various charges, including unlawful assembly, possession of weapons 
and violating the national security law.

   The law makes secessionist, subversive, or terrorist activities illegal, as 
well as foreign intervention in the city's internal affairs. Any person taking 
part in secessionist activities, such as shouting slogans or holding up banners 
and flags calling for the city's independence, is violating the law regardless 
of whether violence is used.

   The arrests come less than 24 hours after the law was imposed by China 
following last year's anti-government protests in the semi-autonomous 
territory. The law took effect on Tuesday at 11 p.m.

   The most serious offenders, such as those deemed to be masterminds behind 
the crimes, could receive a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. Lesser 
offenders could receive jail terms of up to three years, short-term detention 
or restriction.

   Hong Kong's leader strongly endorsed the new law in a speech marking 
Wednesday's 23rd anniversary of the handover of the territory --- officially 
called the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region --- from British colonial 
rule.

   "The enactment of the national law is regarded as the most significant 
development in the relationship between the central authorities and the HKSAR 
since Hong Kong's return to the motherland," chief executive Carrie Lam said in 
a speech, following a flag-raising ceremony and the playing of China's national 
anthem.

   "It is also an essential and timely decision for restoring stability in Hong 
Kong," she said.

   A pro-democracy political party, The League of Social Democrats, organized a 
protest march during the flag-raising ceremony. About a dozen participants 
chanted slogans echoing demands from protesters last year for political reform 
and an investigation into accusations of police abuse.

   The law's passage Tuesday further blurs the distinction between the legal 
systems of Hong Kong, which maintained aspects of British law after the 1997 
handover, and the mainland's authoritarian Communist Party system. Critics say 
the law effectively ends the "one country, two systems" framework under which 
Hong Kong was promised a high degree of autonomy.

   The law directly targets some of the actions of anti-government protesters 
last year, which included attacks on government offices and police stations, 
damage to subway stations and the shutdown of the city's international airport. 
Acts of vandalism against government facilities or public transit can be 
prosecuted as subversion or terrorism, while anyone taking part in activities 
deemed secessionist would also be in violation of the law.

   Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said in a news conference that the 
security legislation does not abide by the rule of law and is a dire warning to 
the free press.

   "This would tell you that they want not just to get us, but to intimidate us 
into inaction, into a catatonic state," Mo said.

   Hong Kong's police force said they would consider as illegal any flag or 
banner raised by protesters deemed to promote Hong Kong's separation from China 
or express support for independence for Tibet, Xinjiang or the self-governing 
island democracy of Taiwan that China claims as its own.

   Police will use a new purple flag to warn protesters if they display banners 
or shout slogans that may constitute a crime under the law.

   Concerns have also been raised over the fate of key opposition figures, some 
of whom have already been charged for taking part in protests, as well as the 
disqualification of candidates for Legislative Council elections scheduled for 
September.

   In Beijing, the executive deputy director of the Cabinet's Hong Kong affairs 
office, Zhang Xiaoming, said Hong Kong people are allowed to criticize the 
ruling Communist Party but cannot turn those complaints "into actions."

   "What happened recently in Hong Kong has shown a deviation from the right 
track of the 'one country, two systems' (framework)," Zhang told reporters 
Wednesday.

   "To some extent, we made this law in order to correct the deviation ... to 
pull it closer to 'one-country.'"

   Schools, social groups, media outlets, websites and others will be monitored 
and their national security awareness will be raised, according to the law, 
while the central government will have authority over the activities of foreign 
non-governmental organizations and media outlets in Hong Kong.

   The law says central government bodies in Hong Kong will take over in 
"complicated cases" and when there is a serious threat to national security. 
Local authorities are barred from interfering with central government bodies 
operating in Hong Kong while they are carrying out their duties.

   Security legislation was mandated under Hong Kong's local constitution, but 
an earlier attempt to pass it in the city's legislative body in 2003 was 
shelved because of massive public opposition. Beijing finally decided to 
circumvent the Hong Kong legislature and have the law passed Tuesday by the 
Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's rubber-stamp 
parliament.

   President Xi Jinping signed a presidential order putting the law into 
effect, and it has been added to the Basic Law, Hong Kong's constitution.

   The law's passage comes after Hong Kong's legislature in early June approved 
a contentious bill making it illegal to insult the Chinese national anthem.

   The new laws have deepened concerns abroad about Hong Kong's future.

   The U.S. is moving to end special trade terms given to the territory. The 
Trump administration has also said it will bar defense exports to Hong Kong and 
will soon require licenses for the sale of items that have both civilian and 
military uses.

   The U.S. Congress has also moved to impose sanctions on people deemed 
connected to political repression in Hong Kong, including police officials, 
while Britain has said it could offer residency and possible citizenship to 
about 3 million of Hong Kong's 7.5 million people.

   China has said it will impose visa restrictions on Americans it sees as 
interfering over Hong Kong.

   U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced the threat of a visa ban as a 
sign of "how Beijing refuses to take responsibility for its own choices" and 
said the law's adoption "destroys the territory's autonomy and one of China's 
greatest achievements."

   Beijing's "paranoia and fear of its own people's aspirations have led it to 
eviscerate the very foundation of the territory's success," Pompeo said in a 
statement.

   Taiwan on Wednesday opened an office to facilitate migration from Hong Kong.

   The establishment of the office is "not only a statement on Taiwan's support 
to Hong Kong's democracy and freedom, but also highlights our determination to 
care for Hong Kong people," said Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council minister 
Chen Ming-tong at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

 
 
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