Four Hongkongers sought asylum at the city’s US consulate on Tuesday but were turned away, according to one of the four who says he has US citizenship. They were denied entry on the same day that activist Tony Chung was detained nearby.

The US State Department has sharply criticised Tuesday’s arrest of Chung, 19, as he was reportedly about to seek asylum on his own. But it made no mention of the asylum bid by the separate group of four.

Studentlocalism convener Tony Chung
Studentlocalism convener Tony Chung. Photo:

Chung, the former convenor of a pro-independence group called Studentlocalism, has been charged under a Beijing-imposed national security law with secession and has been remanded in custody till January 7. He also faces a charge under a colonial-era law, of conspiring to publish seditious articles.

The 20-year-old activist with US citizenship, interviewed by the Voice of America‘s Chinese-language website under the alias “Wong,” said three members of his group intended to seek asylum while he himself sought consular assistance. The plan originally involved six individuals, but one was arrested that morning and one had decided not to proceed.

US consulate general in Hong kong and macau
Photo: Another Believer via Wikimedia

After entering the consulate, Wong said he waited at the counter area for a US official to come and see them, while the others waited at the stairway at the entrance.

Wong, who said he was born in San Jose, California to Hong Kong parents and grew up in Hong Kong, said several officials came to see them, including a consular affairs officer who made inquiries about his situation. Wong said they understood that he was a US citizen, and that Hong Kong police and national security officers were looking for him.

He said he was subsequently told that the consulate could not do much in terms of his protection. Consular officials took their contact information and said they would keep in touch and the group left shortly afterwards.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement on Twitter condemned what he called “Chinese-controlled Hong Kong Police’s arrest” of Chung and of two other activists. The State Department called for their immediate release.

“The Beijing-controlled Hong Kong government continues to stifle dissent, repress public opinion, and use law enforcement for political purposes,” said a department statement on Thursday.

“The Chinese Communist Party and its Hong Kong proxies crush the promised autonomy of Hong Kong, and eviscerate Hong Kong’s respect for human rights, including the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong.”

Amnesty International said the attack on human rights in Hong Kong “has been ramped up another notch with this politically motivated arrest in which a peaceful student activist has been charged and detained solely because the authorities disagree with his views.”

“Tony Chung has been targeted solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression and he should be released immediately and unconditionally, and all charges against him dropped.”

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.