Hong Kong national security police have arrested an activist over suspected foreign collusion, with reports identifying her as the wife of detained former lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan.

Elizabeth Tang
Elizabeth Tang. File photo: ILO Asia-Pacific, via Flickr.

Elizabeth Tang was apprehended outside Stanley Prison at around noon on Thursday, media outlets including iCable and Sing Tao reported.

She was arrested after visiting Lee in jail, iCable said. Tang is understood to have moved to the UK in 2021.

Police confirmed on Thursday night that a 65-year-old woman had been arrested for “suspected collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.”

Tang was chief executive of the pro-democracy Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) until 2011, according to her LinkedIn page. The group was among the dozens that disbanded in the wake of the national security law imposed by Beijing in June 2020.

She is currently the general secretary of the International Domestic Workers Federation, a global organisation advocating for the rights of domestic workers with affiliates in 68 countries, according to the group’s website.

Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions was one of many civil society groups that disbanded in 2021. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

HKFP has reached out to the police for comment.

Ex-lawmaker husband

Her husband Lee, a former leader of the Tiananmen vigil organiser the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, is currently detained under the national security law. He and two other ex-leaders, Chow Hang-tung and Albert Ho, and the group itself, stand accused of incitement to subversion.

The case was transferred to the High Court in September, where the highest penalty for incitement to subversion is 10 years’ imprisonment.

Lee Cheuk-yan
Lee Cheuk-yan. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Lee was denied bail in December, when a judge ruled there were insufficient grounds for believing that he would not continue to commit acts endangering national security if bail was granted.

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.

‘Getting off scot-free’

Tang was the target of reports by Beijing-controlled local media outlet Ta Kung Pao in September 2021, when the newspaper accused her of receiving funding from foreign organisations as a board member of labour rights advocacy group Asia Monitor Resource Centre.

national security law banner
A national security billboard. Photo: GovHK.

Ta Kung Pao added that the centre operated “under” HKCTU, which pro-Beijing supporters have long accused of having close ties with overseas organisations.

After Ta Kung Pao’s report, the centre said it was “independent of any local or international organisations” and said it would cease operations in Hong Kong amid pressure that had “intensified significantly.”

The Asia Monitor Resource Centre conducts advocacy work across the continent. Its website still lists its Hong Kong address.

In November 2021, pro-Beijing supporters petitioned outside the police headquarters, asking why Tang was allowed to “get off scot-free” after Lee had already been “brought to justice.”

Tang’s reported arrest comes days after Chief Executive John Lee met with director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Xia Baolong in Beijing. Lee said Xia told the leader that the Hong Kong government must “nip in the bud” any acts that endanger national security.

John Lee
Chief Executive John Lee meets the press on February 28, 2023. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

“We will definitely crack down on any [forces] trying to undermine national security or breach the peace of Hong Kong society, or [hurt] Hong Kong’s overall interests – and hold them legally responsible under the law,” Lee, who was in the nation’s capital to attend the start of the National People’s Congress session, said on Monday.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.