The former convenor of pro-independence group Studentlocalism, Tony Chung, was arrested on Tuesday by members of the Hong Kong police national security unit close to the US Consulate General where he planned to seek asylum, according to local media.
Friends of Hong Kong, a democratic advocacy group founded by UK-based Hongkongers, told local newspaper Apple Daily that the 19-year-old had intended to ask for asylum at the consulate in Central.
It said he had told the group at around 8.10 am that he was being tailed, and lost contact minutes later. Apple Daily cited an eyewitness as saying Chung was taken away by at least four people suspected to be police national security personnel.
Studentlocalism suspended its operations in Hong Kong hours before Beijing enacted its sweeping controversial national security law for Hong Kong on June 30. The group, which now operates only overseas, said it lost contact with Chung at 8 am and had no information on his whereabouts.
“He was not found at his home, with no trace as to where he is. Tony Chung planned to check in at the police station today,” the political group wrote on Facebook.
Studentlocalism – which currently operates abroad with divisions in the US, Australia and Taiwan – said on Tuesday afternoon that two former members William Chan and Yanni Ho were also taken into custody in Tuen Mun Police Station and Tin Shum Police Station respectively.
“The three arrestees including Tony Chung have accepted legal assistance. Tony Chung is currently recording a statement accompanied by a lawyer,” Studentlocalism said in another Facebook post.
In response to HKFP‘s enquiries, police confirmed their national security unit arrested two males and one female – aged 17 to 21 – for allegedly posting social media content related to inciting secession since September, which is an offence under Article 21 of the national security law.
“[They] are being detained and investigated now, the operation is still in progress, [we] don’t rule out the possibility that more people may be arrested,” police said in an email reply.
Chung, Chan, Ho and another ex-Studentlocalism member were detained under the new security law in July. The sweeping legislation criminalises secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which are broadly defined to include disruption or damage to public transport and other infrastructure.
Police said the arrests in July were based on the content of social media accounts, which advocated using all means to establish a “republic of Hong Kong” and unite pro-independence political groups.
The four teenagers were later released on bail without charge, but police demanded Chung remove the social media posts within 72 hours. They had to surrender their passports as well.
Chung told the press after his release that the posts in question were made by a group founded by some former members of Studentlocalism and he had no connection to them.
The Hong Kong police national security unit was founded after the new law came into force. Its provisions have been widely criticised internationally and have sparked US sanctions.