Three teenage activists were released unconditionally by Hong Kong police on Monday six months after their initial arrests for “inciting secession” under the security law in July. Yanni Ho, Ho Nok-hang and Chan Wai-jin were former members of the pro-independence group Studentlocalism.
Their release marks the first time individuals arrested under the security law have been released unconditionally since the law’s promulgation last summer.
Yanni Ho, one of the three, said the force that it will return her bail money and let her travel freely. “I! got! my! passport! back!” Ho wrote on her Facebook page. “[Officers] just told me that they will release me temporarily, meaning that I don’t have to report to the police regularly anymore.”
Police however told Ho they may re-arrest her at a later date. “But they said they can’t rule out that – when they gather enough evidence – they will arrest me again, lol,” her post read.
Ho was arrested twice last year by security law officers for allegedly “inciting secession” via social media posts. Three other ex-Studentlocalism members including ex-convener Tony Chung were also arrested over the same allegations. The group had moved its operations abroad shortly before Beijing’s passing of the security law.
The force confirmed the three’s unconditional release on Monday evening: “Police arrested three men and a woman for contravention of national security law on July 29, 2020. After investigation and seeking legal advice, Police laid holding charges against one of the arrested persons while the remaining three arrested persons have been released unconditionally.”
The fourth detainee Chung is currently remanded in custody after being charged for secession under the security law and two counts of money-laundering. He was separately sentenced to four months imprisonment last month for disrespecting the Chinese national flag.
The trio’s release comes after the mass arrests of 55 pro-democracy figures for alleged subversion under the security law earlier this month over their roles in the unofficial primary election for the democratic camp held last July. The city-wide roundup was decried by foreign governments and rights groups as a dramatic escalation in authorities’ crackdown on dissent and democratic values in the city.
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.