Beijing’s foreign ministry in Hong Kong warned US senators on Tuesday that attempts to “disrupt” the city are “doomed to fail,” after concerns were raised over the arrests of a local media tycoon and two pro-democracy advocates.

Beijing’s remarks came a day after Jim Risch and Bob Menendez – the chair and ranking member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee – reacted to the arrests last Friday of newspaper mogul Jimmy Lai and former pro-democracy lawmakers Lee Cheuk-yan and Yeung Sum.

US Senators Jim Risch and Bob Menendez
US Senators Jim Risch (left) and Bob Menendez (right). Photo: GovUS.

Menedez described the arrests as a “steady erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy,” and both called on the US administration to fully implement the Hong Kong Human Rights Democracy Act that became legislation last November.

“The Hong Kong government has been actively arresting and charging protesters and others who support Hong Kong’s autonomy… that is bad for the rule of law,” Risch said in a statement on Monday.

Beijing’s foreign ministry slammed Risch and Menedez as defaming the Hong Kong government and the police force, saying they had threatened to intervene in the city’s affairs and China’s internal governance by calling for the Act to be enforced.

“The senators lied through their teeth and tried to whitewash Jimmy Lai, despite incriminating evidence that he has harmed the country and disrupted Hong Kong,” the ministry spokesperson said. “Their intention is despicable, and their attempt to disrupt the city is doomed to fail,” the spokesperson added.

Both Lai and Lee were charged on suspicion of participating in an illegal assembly during an anti-extradition law protest last August 31, while Lai faces another charge of allegedly intimidating a reporter in 2017. Yeung was arrested on suspicion of organising an unlawful assembly.

Lee Cheuk Yan, Jimmy Lai, Yeung Sum
Lee Cheuk-yan, Jimmy Lai, Yeung Sum. Photos: Tom Grundy/HKFP, Apple Daily, Au Nok-hin, via Facebook.

It was the second time American politicians have voiced concerns over the arrests.

Last Friday, Morgan Ortagus, the spokesperson of the US Department of State, issued a statement to urge the Hong Kong government to handle the cases fairly and transparently to preserve the city’s rule of law and people’s freedom of assembly and expression.

“We expect Hong Kong authorities not to use law enforcement selectively for political purposes,” Ortagus wrote.

In response, Beijing’s foreign ministry warned the US to stop “condoning anti-China and trouble-making suspects,” saying their comments were “blatant interference” in the city’s rule of law and judicial independence.

“The US is pointing fingers at the SAR Government’s law-based governance on the pretext of human rights and freedom,” the ministry said in a statement last Saturday.

Lai, Lee and Yeung were released on bail on the same day of their arrests. The trio will appear at Eastern Magistrates’ Courts on May 5.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.