Hong Kong police have arrested eight men aged between 16 and 34 in connection to a peaceful demonstration at Chinese University of Hong Kong in November, senior superintendent of the police national security department Steve Li confirmed on Monday.

steve li kwai wah national security department of police
Steve Li. Photo: Hong Kong Police via Facebook.

The men were arrested early Monday morning for unlawful assembly, three among them were also arrested for inciting secession under the national security law. The group included students, a social worker and two district councillors. Li said arrests in relation to the protest will continue.

“There were some criminal damage cases around, inside the campus. Mainly have some pro-Hong Kong Independence wording painted on some premises inside,” said Li of the arrests. Police responded to a report from the university on November 19, he said, and subsequently conducted an investigation on university grounds that day, where they found pro-independence graffiti at 30 locations inside the school.

Around 100 students held a protest march during their graduation day after their ceremony was cancelled owing to Covid-19 social distancing rules. They displayed flags that read “Hong Kong Independence, the only way out” and “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times,” sprayed graffiti of the slogans and sang the protest anthem Glory to Hong Kong. They marched peacefully from the local train station to the “Million Boulevard” walkway.

arthur yeung chi chun 楊子雋 灣仔起動
Photo: Arthur Yeung via Facebook.

“In the afternoon around 12 o’clock there was a procession without notifying the police… of around 90 persons,” Li told the press. “Throughout the one-hour procession within the campus, some of them [were] shouting the slogans of Hong Kong Independence and some of them [were] displaying banners also involv[ing] Hong Kong Independence.”

Among those arrested were activist Arthur Yeung and district councillors Eason Chan and Issac Lee, who all graduated from the university.

CUHK Chinese university of hong kong protest march nov 19 2020 20201119
File Photo: RL/Studio Incendo.

Following the protest, around 40 officers from Hong Kong’s national security police department entered the campus to investigate. The march was condemned by the local government and Beijing’s Liaison Office, for “blatant violation of the National Security Law.”

Amnesty International Hong Kong’s Programme Manager Lam Cho Ming said in a statement that the arrests were an attack on human rights: “Chanting political slogans, singing songs and waving flags should never be crimes, but there is a grim predictability about these arrests that lays bare the deterioration of human rights in Hong Kong since the national security law was enacted… The people arrested for protesting at CUHK have been targeted solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly and they should be released immediately and unconditionally, with all charges against them dropped.”

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

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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.