Hong Kong’s national security police on Thursday arrested 11 people in connection with the attempt by 12 activists to flee the city by speedboat in August 2019, including a prominent human rights lawyer and pro-democracy politician.
Democratic Party district councilor and volunteer rights lawyer Daniel Wong said police showed up at his home in Kowloon City at around 6.00 a.m.
Live video footage of the arrest showed Wong shouting “Insist on democracy, insist on human rights, and the rule of law! Don’t give up, Hongkongers!” as he was handcuffed and escorted into an unmarked car with marked police vans in the background.
Wong was later taken back to his district councilor’s office to assist police with a search at around noon.
Police confirmed that the national security division had arrested eight men and three women aged 18-72 on suspicion of “aiding and abetting criminals.”
Wong, 72, became prominent as a volunteer lawyer for protesters arrested during the 2019 protest movement, and for his tireless advocacy for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
His last social media post before his arrest read: “Inside the walls are the young faces of those who have stayed in Hong Kong but lost their freedom. Outside the wall, others are exiled, strangers in a strange land, not knowing when they can come home.”
“The darker things get, the more we need to hang in there!” he wrote.
Active, day and night
Former pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said Wong always came out to offer legal assistance to protesters at any time of the day.
“I would call him, and he would come right away, regardless of how late it was,” Lam told RFA. “He would usually be seen going back and forth between different parts of a police station, wearing shorts, sandals, with his long hair, and clutching a water bottle.”
Wong had also driven Lam around the city to support arrested protesters, Lam said.
“A lawyer of many years’ experience, he was happy to share that experience with younger lawyers, and he helped a lot of families, bringing them a sense of calm, as well as dealing with the police,” he said. “I was always very impressed with his sense of justice.”
Wong was also active in helping Hongkongers launch pro-protest businesses on the democratic island of Taiwan, and was a favorite target of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-backed media.
Hong Kong political commentator Sang Pu said Wong was aware of the danger of arrest, but had wanted to stay in the city to help others.
“Lots of people asked him why he didn’t leave Hong Kong, and he always said it was to help people,” Sang said. “He touched a lot of people.”
He said it was hard to see how Wong could be accused of violating national security, even under the draconian law imposed by the CCP on Hong Kong since July 1.
“It’s not really about what he’s actually done, though; they are targeting him as a person,” Sang said.
Ten protesters sentenced
On Dec. 31, 2020, a court in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong handed down jail terms of up to three years to 10 of the 12 Hong Kong protesters detained on Aug. 23 as they tried to flee a national security crackdown in the city, on charges linked to “illegally crossing a border.”
Two detainees — Liu Tsz-man and Hoang Lam-fuk — were sent back to Hong Kong after the authorities said they wouldn’t pursue charges against them, as they were under 18 at the time of their detention.
Liu, now 18, was remanded in police custody after completing quarantine and being charged with conspiracy to commit arson for allegedly possessing raw materials to make Molotov cocktails during the 2019 protest movement, government broadcaster RTHK reported.
Hoang also faces charges of “absconding” and “conspiring to assist criminals,” it said.
The arrests came as a Hong Kong internet provider confirmed it had blocked access to a protest-related website following a police order, the first confirmed takedown of a website under the national security law.
“We have disabled the access to the website in compliance with the requirement issued under the National Security Law,” Hong Kong Broadband Network said in a statement.
HKChronicles, a website dedicated to publishing first-hand accounts of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, warned its users last week to prepare for large-scale internet blocks, filters, and censorship in future, in the first indication that China may be exporting its Great Firewall to the city under a draconian national security law that took effect on July 1.
Reported by Man Hoi Yan and Lu Xi for RFA’s Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.